PARIS (AFP) - Frances former prime minister Dominique de Villepin was acquitted Thursday of plotting to smear Nicolas Sarkozy and wreck his presidential bid in a verdict seen as bolstering his chance at a comeback. The court ruled there were no grounds to convict the 56-year-old politician of complicity to slander Sarkozy in 2004, when the two men were angling to succeed president Jacques Chirac. The acquittal was an outright victory for Villepin and a slap for his long-time rival Sarkozy who had reportedly vowed to hang those responsible for the scandal by a butchers hook. After many years of ordeal, my innocence has been recognised, Villepin said after walking free out of the Paris courtroom. I am not bitter, I harbour no grudges. I am now looking to the future to serve French people and contribute in a spirit of unity to the recovery of France, he said. The verdict coincidentally came on Sarkozys 55th birthday and while the president was chairing a meeting at the Elysee Palace to agree on measures to curb Frances ballooning deficit. The complex case centred on a list-later proved to have been fabricated-of account holders at the Clearstream financial clearing house who allegedly took bribes from the sale of French warships to Taiwan. Sarkozys name was on the list and the French leader alleged the scandal was fabricated to tarnish him ahead of his partys nomination for the 2007 presidential vote, which he won. Sarkozy, who was a civil plaintiff in the case, announced he would not appeal the decision but noted that the court had recognized that there had been a serious conspiracy even though Villepin was not found guilty. Villepin was cleared on all four counts in the case dubbed Frances trial of the decade: complicity to slander, to use forgeries, dealing in stolen property and breach of trust. Three other defendants were convicted: ex-aerospace executive Jean-Louis Gergorin who admitted to leaking the fake list to investigators, Imad Lahoud who confessed to adding Sarkozys name to the list and accountant Florian Bourges, who obtained data on account holders that were later falsified. Journalist Denis Robert, who introduced Bourges to Lahoud, was acquitted. The sensational trial opened in September in the courtroom where Marie Antoinette was sentenced to the guillotine in 1793, with Villepin accusing Sarkozy of pursuing a personal vendetta against him. Dubbed the Clearstream affair, the scandal made frontpage news across France and Sarkozy, then Chiracs ambitious finance minister, long suspected that Villepin was behind an attempt to sabotage his bid for the Elysee. Prosecutors had argued during the month-long trial that while Villepin did not deliberately take part in a plot to smear Sarkozy, he did nothing to stop the scandal from spinning out of control as he hoped to gain political capital. They had sought a suspended jail sentence of 18 months and a 45,000-euro (70,000-dollar) fine for Villepin. The silver-haired politician, best known for opposing the US invasion of Iraq at the United Nations, had argued during the trial that he never knew the list was false and never sought to use it against Sarkozy. Villepin is banking that the acquittal will help propel his political career as he sets his sights on the 2012 presidential vote, at a time when Sarkozy is struggling with poor approval ratings. In the week before the verdict, he made a high-profile visit to a Paris suburb, declaring that he offered a political alternative to Sarkozy and was ready to serve France and the French.