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Tuesday 16 September 2014

'It's a witch-hunt' says Sarkozy, as he is charged with corruption

Rory Mulholland

Published 03/07/2014 | 02:30

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Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at a financial investigation unit in Paris, where he was charged with corruption on Tuesday night. Reuters

Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with corruption in a probe linked to allegations that the French ex-president received up to €50m in illegal campaign financing from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

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After 15 hours of questioning by police, the conservative politician was driven to offices of a judge in the early hours of yesterday where he, his lawyer and a senior magistrate were told they were being charged with corruption and "influence-peddling".

Responding to the charge last night, Mr Sarkozy said:that he was the victim of a "grotesque" political witch-hunt only hours after he was charged with corruption in a long-running inquiry surrounding campaign finances.

"I am profoundly shocked by what has happened," he said in his first television interview since he lost the presidency two years ago. "I have never committed any act contrary to the values of the republic or the rule of law."

In an interview with the TF1 station recorded after he was released early yesterday following 15 hours of police questioning, Mr Sarkozy said:

"Everything is being done to present an image of me that does not conform to reality.

"There is a desire to humiliate me. The charges against me are grotesque."

"I would like to say to those listening that I have never betrayed their trust. I have never committed an act against the principles of the republic or the rule of law."

Accusing the magistrates' trade union of seeking to destroy him, he said: "Everything is being done to give me a reputation that is not true." Mr Sarkozy is accused of using his position of power to try to find out information about legal proceedings against him.

Shock

"Sarkozy: The Shock Wave" was the front-page headline in 'Le Figaro' newspaper which described his questioning on Tuesday 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 Mr 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.

Mr Sarkozy, who has denied any wrong-doing in this and the various other affairs for which he is being investigated, was due to speak yesterday evening on French television station TF1, the broadcaster said.

The corruption charges will deal a severe blow to Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Sarkozy. Both Mr Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls said judges were acting independently and that Mr Sarkozy benefited like all suspects from the presumption of innocence.

Police are trying to establish whether Mr Sarkozy promised a job in Monaco to a judge in return for letting him know whether allegations against him would go to court.

French media in March revealed police intercepts of Mr 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 €50m in illegal financing for Mr Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential campaign.

After four fruitless months the judges discovered Mr Sarkozy had a secret phone registered under an assumed name. Recordings from that device led to the opening of the influence peddling investigation.

Mr Sarkozy, who is a lawyer by trade, was charged last year in a probe into allegations his party took envelopes stuffed with cash from France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. Those charges were later dropped but his campaign treasurer is one of 10 people awaiting trial in that case. Mr Sarkozy's encounters with the law began only a short time after he lost his presidential immunity a month after leaving the Elysee, when anti-corruption police raided the Paris home he shares with his third wife Carla Bruni. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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