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A man at the centre of a French corruption scandal ate the chip from his mobile phone in an attempt to keep its secrets, according to a report in today's edition of the Times.

Alfred Sirven, the businessman in the middle of the French Elf Aquitaine corruption scandal, ate his mobile phone's SIM card when he was arrested on the Philippines on Friday. He'd been on the run for four years - and whether the phone chip will give him the runs remains open to question. Its even less clear whether he swallowed the silicon chip to any useful purpose, as most billing and call record information is held by telcos themselves, and not on a phone's SIM card.

The Times quotes James Tosoc, of the National Bureau of Investigation in the Philippines, who witnessed the act, and said: "He munched up the chip of his mobile like chewing gum. He broke it with his teeth."

Sirven, the former number two in state-owned oil company Elf Aquitaine, was taken to Germany, where he narrowly escaped been held on questions relating to alleged payments to Germany's Christian Democrat Party.

German investigators wanted Sirven to answer questions on a commission of £20 million paid when Elf bought an oil refinery in East Germany in 1992.

The 72-year old, described as "the man who knows too much", is now being held in an air base outside Paris. Sirven is due to line up with other accused at the trail of Roland Dumas, a former foreign minister who served in the Mitterrand regime, and five other people accused over the alleged abuse of Elf funds. ®

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