French president Francois Hollande accused of trying to sway court in partner lawsuit

Critics accused French President Francois Hollande of seeking to influence the judiciary on Monday as his girlfriend went to court seeking damages over a salacious biography.

Valerie Trierweiler, the president's 47-year-old partner, is suing the authors of "La Frondeuse" (The Rebel) for defamation and invasion of privacy, seeking USD 110,000 in damages and court costs.

As the trial opened today, it emerged that Hollande sent a letter -- but not on paper with the presidential letterhead to the court denying an assertion in the book that he had reached out to the right in the mid-1990s.

Hollande, 58, denounced as a "complete fabrication" the book's claim that he had in 1994 sought to arrange a meeting with the then right-wing prime minister Edouard Balladur.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls also wrote to the court saying comments he made to the two authors were distorted and taken out of context. That letter was written on ministry letterhead, said Olivier Pardo, the authors' lawyer.

"The separation of powers has been violated. The president is the guarantor of judicial independence. This is unbelievable," said Pardo.

The right-wing opposition UMP said the letter could be seen as a way of putting pressure on the court.

"I am astonished," said UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope. "I wonder what are the reasons that may have led Mr. Hollande to give so many lectures to (his right-wing predecessor Nicolas) Sarkozy... and not to apply them to himself."

There was no official reaction from Hollande, but a source close to the president said he was in no way trying to influence the court and was simply providing testimony in the case.

The letter mentioned in the book was allegedly written to former right-wing minister Patrick Devedjian to ask him to arrange a meeting with Balladur.

The book, written by television journalists Christophe Jakubyszyn and Alix Bouilhaguet, claims Trierweiler had an affair with Devedjian early on in her relationship with Hollande.

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