By Bruce Gain
July, 12, 2006
PARIS -- A hack of a Luxembourg bank's records is emerging as a key detail
of the so-called Clearstream affair here, a national scandal that's pulled
top-level politicians, powerful corporate executives and now a white-hat
hacking group into its orbit.
Like a spy novel or a French version of All the President's Men, the
scandal has captivated the press, and produced a steady stream of leaks
about political vendettas, secret meetings between high-level government
officials and anonymous letters penned by a mysterious "Le Corbeau" (the
Raven). The apparent electronic espionage now adds a high-tech angle to
what many are calling "the French Watergate."
At the heart of the storm is a sophisticated conspiracy to falsely
implicate a number of celebrities, high-ranking officials and political
candidates in a bribery scandal.
Among the falsified evidence produced by the conspirators before the fraud
unraveled were confidential bank records originating with the Clearstream
bank in Luxembourg, which were expertly modified to make it appear that
some French politicians had secretly established offshore bank accounts to
receive bribes. The falsified records were then sent to investigators,
with enough authentic account information left in to make them appear
A French justice department official close to the probe, speaking on
condition of anonymity, said prosecutors were still in the early stage of
their investigation, but have confirmed that someone hacked into the bank.
"It is true that someone did enter the bank's system and altered records
-- we do know that," the official told Wired News. "But we still do not
know who did exactly what."
The complicated affair has its roots in a 2001 investigation of bribery
payments deposited in Clearstream accounts from the sale of French
frigates in Taiwan. While the bribes were real enough, the investigation
became a platform for a Nixonian dirty-tricks operation.
One of the targets of the frame-up was presidential hopeful Nicolas
Sarkozy, and press reports have linked his rival, Prime Minister Dominique
de Villepin, to the smear campaign. French President Jacques Chirac
defended de Villepin from the charges during a nationally televised
interview last month, and de Villepin has filed libel suits against four
Last month, prosecutors formerly charged Lebanese-born Imad Lahoud for
allegedly creating the falsified bank records. Lahoud previously worked
for the French secret service and headed a department of network engineers
for Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space, or EADS.
Also arrested was Jean-Louis Gergorin, a former vice president for EADS,
who allegedly distributed the records. Gergorin is thought to be Le
Corbeau, who anonymously sent incriminating letters with the banking
records to French judges.
A third alleged French plumber, Florian Bourges, has admitted to having
copied and retained files stolen from the banking network, which he then
handed off to Lahoud. A former executive from the internal audit firm
Arthur Andersen, Bourges maintains the prosecutors' case against him is
barred by the statute of limitations, since he copied the banking files
more than three years ago. His case is pending before a French court.
Bourges told prosecutors this month that Lahoud was the one who modified
the stolen bank account file -- a charge that Lahoud has denied. Lahoud's
attorney declined to comment for this article.
Lahoud's mysterious past has fueled numerous news reports in the French
media, with topics ranging from his alleged ties to the bin Laden family
and the French secret service, and his arrest for participating in an
alleged fraudulent stock trading swindle a few years ago.
More recently, the French investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchan
divulged that members of Lahoud's engineering team at EADS also belong to
a respected French white-hat hacker organization called Rstack, which has
ample skills to hack an overseas banking network.
Rstack members did not respond to repeated e-mail inquiries, but last
month an Rstack member vehemently proclaimed the group's innocence on
"This day would have been heavenly if it had not been for a weekly
publication that felt obliged to play up a story based on a mlange of
dubious facts and falsely drawn conclusions marginally relating to an
affair that seems to only excite the media," wrote a hacker known as Sid.
"Thanks guys for having ruined the week of innocent people who had nothing
to do with this story."
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