Nicolas Sarkozy held by police for questioning over influence peddling

SMH — July 1, 2014

Sarkozy greets Gaddafi at the Elysee Palace, Paris, during an official visit in December 2007.

Sarkozy greets Gaddafi at the Elysee Palace, Paris, during an official visit in December 2007.

Nicolas Sarkozy has become the first former French president to be taken into formal custody after he was detained for questioning in an influence-peddling probe.

Mr Sarkozy turned himself in, arriving at a police station in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre around 8am on Tuesday 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 Mr Sarkozy, a right-winger who led France from 2007 to 2012, comes a day after investigators took his long-time 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.

Investigators are seeking to establish whether Mr Sarkozy, with the help of his lawyer, attempted to pervert the course of justice in a case with the potential to land the country’s former leader in jail.

They suspect Mr Sarkozy, 59, sought to obtain inside information from one of the magistrates about the progress of another
investigation and that he was 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 Muammar Gaddafi.

The detention of Mr Herzog and the two magistrates on Monday was seen as a step towards Mr Sarkozy himself being taken into custody for questioning and potentially charged – a move that would be devastating for his hopes of a political comeback in time for the next presidential campaign in 2017.

Under French law, suspects in criminal cases can be held in custody for up to 48 hours before they must be charged or released.

Mr Sarkozy is alleged to have been helped to victory in 2007 with up to €50 million provided by Colonel Gaddafi and envelopes stuffed with cash from France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

He dismisses the Gaddafi claims as ridiculous and was cleared last year of taking Ms 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 Gaddafi investigation is ongoing. It was in connection with it that the judges last year obtained the unprecedented authorisation to tap the phones of a former president.

After four fruitless months they discovered that Mr Sarkozy had a secret phone registered under an assumed name and it was conversations with Mr Herzog recorded on that device that triggered the investigation.

Leaked excerpts suggest Mr Sarkozy got a friendly judge to try to influence the outcome of confidential legal deliberations related to the Bettencourt case in return for support in securing a lucrative post in Monaco.

They also imply he had a mole in a senior position who tipped him off about a planned police raid on his offices.

Such interference in the judicial process is regarded as “influence peddling” in French law and carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Mr Sarkozy has attacked the tapping of his phones as worthy of East Germany’s notorious Stasi secret police. The authorisation of recordings of lawyer-client conversations has also provoked misgivings within sections of France’s legal establishment.

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