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General

Sarkozy placed under formal investigation, but out on bail

media Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge late July 1, 2014. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation for alleged corruption and influence peddling, following more than 15 hours of questioning. It's the first time a French head of state has been taken into custody in a criminal investigation and could wreck his chances of a political comeback.

 

The right-wing leader was released from police custody early on Wednesday morning, shortly after he was formally charged. Prosecutors consider they have enough evidence linking the ex-President to a string of corruption cases.

So what is he being investigated for?

  • Trying to obtain inside information about the alleged financing of his 2007 campaign by former Libyan leader Kadhafi
  • Using his influence to interfere in judicial proceedings related to the Bettencourt case
  • Actively corrupting a magistrate by offering him a lucrative post in exchange for information

If convicted of the charges, Sarkozy could face up to ten years in prison.

"The charges are serious..." said Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday.

"The number of legal cases he's implicated in is absolutely staggering," added Marine Le Pen of the Far right Front National, "they totally discredit any political comeback," she said.

But Sarkozy's backers have hit out at the investigations as part of a witch hunt designed to keep him from coming back to power. For the UMP's Valérie Debord, the charges are based on hot air. "The Bettencourt case was thrown out and Sarkozy was found not guilty," she stated.

At the root of the case are allegations that the ex-President was helped to victory in the 2007 election with up to 50 million euros from Mouammar Kadhafi and wads of cash from L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

Dossier - The Bettencourt scandal

The Socialist government has denied suggestions that the ex-President is being hounded. "The judicial system should be able to work independently...no one is above the law," said Valls.

Valérie Debord said she believes "the justice system will again clear Sarkozy's name."

Sarkozy was taken into custody on Tuesday – a day after his long-time lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and two magistrates were also detained. The 59-year old, who's expected to make a political comeback in 2017, has faced non-stop legal battles since he left office. The Kadhafi investigation is ongoing, as are other cases, including a long-running probe into allegations he helped organise kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal before becoming president.

In an attempt to stifle accusations of judicial harassment, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday that "every suspect is innocent until proven guity, including Nicolas Sarkozy."

 

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