A story involving a plane decked with cocaine and a mysterious escape from a Caribbean island took on a bizarre political dimension on Sunday when the former president’s name arose in the French investigation into the so-called Air Cocaine case.
According to French newspaper the Journal du dimanche, investigating judge Christine Saunier-Ruellan ordered two of Sarkozy’s mobile phones to be traced and requested detailed records of communications sent and received between March 2013 and March 2014.
Sarkozy leased planes from the same company whose pilots were arrested as they prepared to fly with almost 680 kilograms of cocaine from the Dominican Republic to Saint-Tropez in southern France in March 2013.
The report showed the investigation found no evidence linking Sarkozy to the case, prompting the former president to launch a counter-attack in an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday.
“What I want to know is what could justify an investigating magistrate taking such measures solely because I used the same airline,” Sarkozy told the paper.
“All this would be just laughable if it wasn’t about a violation of legal principles that all French people support.”
Sarkozy said such phone tracking could not have been authorised without the knowledge of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government.
The former president’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, threatened to file complaints over “invasion of privacy” and “coercive measures” against Sarkozy.
Members of Sarkozy’s political party, Les Républicans, also rushed to his defence.
“It’s as if you used a taxi that was also used by a criminal, and the next day your phone was tapped because you happened to use the same car,” said Bernard Accoyer, who was president of the French National Assembly during Sarkozy’s presidency.
The plane’s two pilots made headlines in France last week after they fled the Dominican Republic, where they had been handed 20-year jail sentences for drug trafficking, in a mysterious overnight operation.
Since their return to France, they have been taken into custody as part of the French investigation into the case, in which a dozen people have been implicated, including business people and customs officials.
Even if Sarkozy has little to fear in the Air Cocaine investigation, a number of other judicial probes could potentially be more damaging, including an abuse of power case whose main evidence consists of phone conversations recorded without his knowledge.
Observers of the former president’s legal troubles say Sarkozy often takes on a similar discourse whenever he is named in an investigation.
“Sarkozy is always very aggressive and angry with the justice system,” says Gérard Davet, an investigative journalist who has broken some of the corruption stories surrounding the former president with French newspaper Le Monde.
“He always says, ‘I’m a victim, I’m a citizen like the others, I don’t understand why the judges try to investigate me.’ But that’s not the point. He’s just a person involved in some investigations.”
A conviction for a corruption offence would seriously hinder any hopes Sarkozy may have for seeking a second term as president.