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French police detain Sarkozy ally in election-funding corruption probe

media Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy addresses a public meeting in Lambersart last month REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

French police on Thursday detained a close ally of Nicolas Sarkozy and two other officials from his UMP party. On Wednesday three former directors of a PR firm were charged in the same inquiry into an election-funding scandal that could damage the ex-president’s political comeback.

Eric Cesari, a close Sarkozy aide once known as the president’s “eyes”, former UMP finance director Fabienne Liadzé and former UMP information officer Pierre Chassat were detained at their homes on Thursday morning, police sources told the press.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

The UMP is in the process of firing Liadzé and Chassat for professional misconduct.

They are the latest victims of an investigation into accusations that the Bygmalion PR firm billed the UMP about 18.5 million euros for rallies during Sarkozy’s unsuccessful campaign to be reelected in 2012 so as to dodge a 22.5-million-euro limit on election campaign expenses.

On Wednesday Bygmalion founders, Bastien Millot and Guy Alvès, were charged with complicity in forgery and use of forged documents, while the former head of its events arm, Franck Attal, was charged with forgery and use of forged documents.

The scandal has already cost Jean-François Copé his job as head of the party, even though campaign deputy director Jéröme Lavrilleux said neither he nor Sarkozy knew of the dodgy invoices when he revealed their existence in May.

Sarkozy last month claimed not to have even heard of Bygmalion until after the election was over but former prime minister François Fillon on Thursday undermined that claim by telling France 2 television that he had “often seen that Bygmalion was a company that regularly worked with the UMP”.

Fillon hopes to be the UMP candidate in the 2017 presidential election and Sarkozy’s announcement that he would stand for UMP leader is widely interpreted as his first move in a bid to stand for the country’s presidency again.

The terms of Millot’s and Alvès’s bail mean that they can have no contact with either Copé or Sarkozy.

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