Tuesday, July 1, 2014 9:41 am
by Marion THIBAUT and Nicolas GAUDICHET
PARIS (AFP) – Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday became the first former French president to be taken into formal custody as he was detained for questioning in an influence-peddling probe.
Sarkozy turned himself in, arriving at a police station in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre around 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in a black saloon car with tinted windows.
He can be held for questioning for a first period of up to 24 hours, with a possible extension of another day. He must then be brought before a judge to be charged or be released.
The detention of Sarkozy, a right-winger who led France from 2007 to 2012, comes a day after investigators took his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog and two magistrates into custody.
It is the latest in a long line of legal woes for the 59-year-old since he left office following his defeat by President Francois Hollande in the 2012 presidential vote.
Sarkozy has made strong hints of a comeback bid in the 2017 presidential election but his hopes would be dealt a heavy blow if he is charged in this case.
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll denied any political pressure was put on the courts to go after Sarkozy.
“The justice system is investigating and will follow this through to the end. Nicolas Sarkozy can face justice just like anyone else,” he told i-Tele.
Investigators are seeking to establish if the former president, with the help of Herzog, attempted to pervert the course of justice.
They suspect Sarkozy sought to obtain inside information from one of the magistrates about the progress of another probe, in exchange for support in securing a post in Monaco.
– Tip-off on phone tapping –
Investigators are probing another allegation that Sarkozy was illegally tipped off that his mobile phone had been tapped by judges looking into the alleged financing of his 2007 election campaign by former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Sarkozy is alleged to have been helped to victory in 2007 with up to 50 million euros ($70 million at the time) provided by Kadhafi and envelopes stuffed with cash from France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
He dismisses the Kadhafi claims as ridiculous and was cleared last year of taking Bettencourt’s money when she was too frail to know what she was doing. His campaign treasurer is one of 10 people awaiting trial in that case.
The Kadhafi investigation is ongoing. It was in connection with the case that judges last year obtained the unprecedented authorisation to tap the phones of a former president.
Sarkozy has been implicated in a number of scandals that are under investigation, including a long-running probe into allegations he helped organise kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal before becoming president.
He has also been linked to a scandal over the funding of his campaign for re-election in 2012.
The leader of his UMP party resigned last month after it emerged that 10 million euros ($13.6 million) spent in support of Sarkozy had been passed off as party expenses.
Sarkozy denies any knowledge or involvement in the falsification of bills for organising campaign rallies and other events. A criminal investigation into that case was opened last week.
French judges have in recent years shown their readiness to go after former leaders with their successful pursuit of Sarkozy’s predecessor as president, Jacques Chirac.
Chirac was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges related to his time as mayor of Paris but was excused from attending his trial because of ill health and was given a two-year suspended.