President Nicolas Sarkozy has astonished France with an outburst accusing a critical reporter of being a paedophile.
The leader reacted furiously when asked about a corruption scandal, saying: ‘You talk rubbish, you verify nothing.’
Microphones at an off-the-record briefing recorded him going on: ‘You are a paedophile, I’m deeply convinced. I’ve seen the secret services but I won’t tell you which ones. I’ve seen someone but I won’t tell you who.
‘But I’m deeply convinced that you’re a paedophile!’
His aim was apparently to show how easy it was to make unfounded allegations against public figures.
The outburst occurred during a briefing, which aides said was not to be reported, before last Friday’s Nato summit in Lisbon.
Officials are said to have pressured Nato to wipe an internal recording of the outburst, but it was yesterday leaked by a French magazine.
As Sarkozy left the room, his parting words to the group of reporters were allegedly: ‘Until tomorrow, my paedophile friends.’
The president’s bizarre reaction was prompted by accusations that money was siphoned from the 1994 sale of submarines to Pakistan into the election campaign fund of then prime minister Edouard Balladur.
Sarkozy was budget minister and Mr Balladur’s campaign spokesman at the time. He denies the allegations.
Sarkozy, who will give evidence to a judge this week in connection with the allegations, fears the claims could derail his 2012 re-election campaign.
He has a history of public outbursts, previously telling a farmer who refused to shake his hand in 2008 to ‘get lost, you stupid bastard’.