Sarkozy denies exploiting senile L'Oreal heiress
NICOLAS Sarkozy broke his silence yesterday to dismiss as "unfair and unfounded" a decision to press preliminary charges against him over illegal campaign funding.
The former French president insisted that he had not "abused the weakness" of Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal heiress who has dementia, to obtain illicit envelopes of cash.
"I want to insist that, at no moment in my public life, did I betray the duties of my office," Mr Sarkozy said.
"I will put all my energy into proving my integrity and honesty. The truth will triumph in the end. I have no doubt about that."
Mr Sarkozy's lawyers are seeking to appeal a decision by three examining magistrates to charge him in a case threatening to wreck his hopes of a political comeback.
He was placed under formal investigation – one step short of being charged – on Thursday after being summoned for face-to-face encounters with former members of Mrs Bettencourt's staff, including two of her butlers.
The confrontation was the latest chapter in an inquiry into allegations that Mr Sarkozy persuaded Mrs Bettencourt, France's richest woman, to donate millions to his 2007 election campaign.
The heiress's former accountant, Claire Thibout, has already told police she handed over envelopes filled with cash that ended up in Mr Sarkozy's campaign coffers.
He faces up to three years in prison and a fine of €350,000 if he is found guilty of exploiting her weakened mental state.
The decision to place Mr Sarkozy under investigation provoked a furious response from his lawyers and right-wing allies, who claimed that the judge leading the inquiry, Jean-Michel Gentil, was politically motivated. It came days after Mr Sarkozy indicated that he might feel duty-bound to run for re-election in 2017 to save France from five more years of Socialist rule.
The most virulent attack on the judge came from Henri Guaino, Mr Sarkozy's former special adviser and speech writer, who said: "He dishonours a man, institutions and the justice system."
Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said that Mr Gentil was among 81 judges who signed an article in 'Le Monde' last year accusing Mr Sarkozy and his predecessor Jacques Chirac of "wishing to protect the corrupt".
Despite the looming case, almost two-thirds of the French believe that the inquiry will not compromise Mr Sarkozy's political future, a poll suggested. (© Daily Telegraph, London)