Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday. (AFP)
Paris, July 2: Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with corruption in a probe linked to allegations that the French ex-President received up to 50 million euros in illegal campaign financing from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
After 15 hours of questioning by police, the conservative politician was driven to offices of a judge in the small hours of today where he, his lawyer and a senior magistrate were told they were being charged with corruption and “influence-peddling”.
Sarkozy is accused of using his position of power to try to find out information about legal proceedings against him in one of a raft of corruption probes embroiling him since he was defeated by the Socialist François Hollande in the 2012 presidential election.
“Sarkozy: The Shock Wave” was the front-page headline in Le Figaro newspaper which described his police custody yesterday as “spectacular” and noted that it was the first time in modern history that a French ex-President had been detained by police.
Investigators must now decide if there is enough evidence to bring Sarkozy and the other two suspects to trial on the charges of influence-peddling, which can be punished by up to five years in prison, and “active corruption”, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
Sarkozy, who has vigorously denied any wrong-doing in this and the various other affairs for which he is being investigated, was due to speak on French television station TF1, the broadcaster said.
This will be his first broadcast interview since he left office.
The corruption charges will deal a severe blow to Sarkozy’s rumoured plans to attempt a political comeback in time for the 2017 presidential election.
They come at a time of turmoil in French politics, with Hollande’s government deeply unpopular as it struggles with a sluggish economy and record unemployment, a surge in support for the far-Right Front National, and Sarkozy’s UMP party riven by in-fighting and weighed down by a campaign finance scandal.
The Hollande government has denied it is carrying out a witch-hunt against Sarkozy. Both Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls said judges were acting independently and that Sarkozy benefited like all suspects from the presumption of innocence.
“No-one is above the law,” said Valls.
Police are trying to establish whether Sarkozy promised a plum job in Monaco to a judge in return for letting him know whether corruption allegations against him would go to court.
French media in March revealed police intercepts of Sarkozy’s phone conversations with his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, which suggested that the two men may have persuaded a judge to provide inside information on a case against the former President.
The phone taps had initially been ordered by judges probing allegations that Libya’s Gaddafi had donated up to 50 million euros in illegal financing for Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential campaign.
After four fruitless months the judges discovered Sarkozy had a secret phone registered under an assumed name. Recordings from that device led to the opening of the influence peddling investigation.