Paris:  A French appeals court on Wednesday confirmed the acquittal of former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin over a political scandal in which he was accused of smearing President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The public prosecutor had called for the suave potential candidate in next year's presidential election and bitter Sarkozy rival to be given a 15-month suspended sentence in the so-called Clearstream scandal.

"I want to salute the independence of our judiciary which has held out against political pressure," Villepin said after the verdicts were read out in a clear attack on what he claims was a politically motivated case.

"I'd like to believe that this decision will help to make our old country less vulnerable to rumour and slander," he said, recalling that the Clearstream scandal erupted just ahead of the 2007 presidential election.

"How I would like this to be a lesson for the 2012 presidential election," he said.

Villepin and his former mentor, ex-president Jacques Chirac, were accused over the weekend of having received 20 million dollars from African leaders, including to finance elections.

They have denied the allegations, which are being investigated.

Villepin has suggested those revelations were also aimed at his potential bid for the presidency, in which he could split the vote on the right and derail Sarkozy's chances of getting through to the second round.

The Clearstream case was centered on a fake list of names.  It falsely implicated Sarkozy in kickbacks on arms deals with Taiwan, with Sarkzoy accusing Villepin of causing his name to be on the list.

(Agencies)