Nicolas Sarkozy 'charged' with corruption

Nicolas Sarkozy

Ex-French president's hopes for a return to office derailed by arrest and questioning

LAST UPDATED AT 10:39 ON Wed 2 Jul 2014

Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy's hopes of staging a comeback at the 2017 presidential race have been dealt a serious blow as an investigation into alleged past malpractice gathers pace.

The French legal system is not the same as Britain's and reports differ as to what stage the investigation has reached. According to the Daily Telegraph, Sarkozy has been charged with corruption and influence peddling, but the BBC is more circumspect, saying only that Sarkozy has been "placed under investigation".

What's in no doubt is that the former president spent 15 hours in custody yesterday being questioned by police.

Sarkozy's current troubles stem from a different investigation into allegations he received illegal funding from Muammar Gaddafi in 2007. He is now accused of using a 'tame judge' at the High Court of Appeal to keep him abreast of the Gaddafi investigation, which is still in progress.

More seriously, investigators are examining whether the judge tried to influence decisions in Sarkozy's favour.

Although Jacques Chirac was convicted of corruption in 2011, yesterday was the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic that a former president has been held by police. After the grilling, Sarkozy was taken before a judge and placed under formal investigation.

This legal term means that a judge will now investigate whether there is sufficient evidence to bring Sarkozy to trial. It does not mean a trial is inevitable but it makes it much more likely.

Influence-peddling, as the charge has it, can be punished by up to ten years in prison and a fine of €150,000 (£120,000). Sarkozy was released from the court last night at around midnight (11pm UK time).

Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and a senior prosecutor, Gilbert Azibert were also placed under investigation last night. A second prosecutor also called for questioning, Patrick Sassoust, has not yet appeared before a judge.

Herzog's lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, said the case rested only on "phone taps … whose legal basis will be strongly contested".

He added: "There's not a lot in this dossier, since none of the material elements of what I've seen, and what we could contest, support the accusations."

Nicolas Sarkozy detained by anti-corruption police 

1 July

Nicolas Sarkozy is being questioned by officials investigating allegations of political corruption.

The former French president was detained by police in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre this morning. Under French law he can be held for up to 48 hours.

The development comes a day after his lawyer Thierry Herzog and attorneys-general Gilbert Azibert and Patrick Sassoust were interrogated by the police, reports The Times.

The three men are "suspected of working to inform the former president of the state of other corruption investigations against him", the paper says.

"One of the most damaging allegations is that he obtained the co-operation of a prosecutor in return for the promise of the appointment of Mr Azibert to a high post in Monaco, where France effectively runs the local judicial system."

The former president denies all wrongdoing, but Reuters describes his detention as "the latest blow to Sarkozy's hopes of a come-back after his 2012 election defeat by Francois Hollande". He was believed to have been planning to seek the leadership of the centre-right UMP party and run for president again.

Sarkozy's allies have accused his opponents of targeting him for political reasons, but the French authorities have denied the charge.

"Justice authorities are investigating and have to go all the way," said French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll. The former president, he said, is "subject to justice just like everyone else". · 

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