Sarkozy hopes of presidency hit as he faces trial over funds
Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30
Nicolas Sarkozy should face trial along with aides on charges that his unsuccessful re-election campaign received illegal funding, French prosecutors reportedly recommended yesterday.
The move is a major blow to the former French president's hopes to run for re-election next year just days after he announced his decision to join the race in a book.
Mr Sarkozy was already under formal investigation in the affair, and prosecutors feel there is sufficient evidence against him and 13 other party members for the case to go to trial.
Investigating magistrates now have one month to make the final decision on whether the case should come to court, meaning their ruling could come just days before presidential primaries of Mr Sarkozy's Republicans party - held on November 20 and 27.
The case initially centred on allegations that false bills via an events company called Bygmalion amounting to €18m were used to mask the fact that Mr Sarkozy's party - then called the UMP - had massively surpassed campaign spending limits in 2012.
The inquiry then widened last October to include another €13.5m.
Illegal party funding in France carries a maximum prison sentence of a year and a €3,750 fine.
In France, campaign spending limits for the 2012 presidential election were €22.5m, a figure his party is accused of vastly surpassing.
Mr Sarkozy announced his bid for next year's presidential election last month and faces a primary in November against a dozen other conservative candidates.
His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denounced the prosecutor's request as "gross political manoeuvring".
He noted that the move fell on the day the trial opened for Jerome Cahuzac, a former budget minister under Socialist President François Hollande forced to resign and charged with allegedly hiding part of his wealth in overseas tax havens.
If the investigating judges eventually decide to send Mr Sarkozy to court, it is unlikely any trial could be held before the April-May presidential election.
If Mr Sarkozy was elected next year, he would be granted immunity as president and would not be able to stand trial in the case before the end of the five-year term.
In February, the judges handed Mr Sarkozy preliminary charges of alleged illegal campaign financing over an invoice system his party and a company named Bygmalion allegedly used to conceal unauthorised overspending.
France had a ceiling on presidential campaign funding in 2012 of €22.5m. The conservative Mr Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-2012 and lost that year's election to Socialist François Hollande, is accused of spending €17m over that limit.
Mr Sarkozy's party was then called UMP but has since renamed itself the Republicans. He quit as party leader when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago.
Several people close to Mr Sarkozy are among those requested to stand trial in the case.
The former president has already paid back €364,000 for overspending in the campaign.
"We are absolutely serene about the fact that all this will end up in a dismissed case," said Daniel Fasquelle, the treasurer of the Republicans.
"I'm also surprised that this news is being announced today . . . as Nicolas Sarkozy just started his campaign."
The so-called "Bygmalion case" is one of several legal cases in which his name has surfaced.
In a separate case, Mr Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges of corruption and influence-peddling based on information gleaned from phone taps about an alleged bid to get information from a judge ahead of a decision.
Preliminary charges mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed but give them more time to investigate before deciding whether to send suspects to trial.
Mr Sarkozy has not been convicted of any wrongdoing or gone to trial. (© Daily Telegraph London)