France’s Sarkozy probed over alleged illegal campaign funding
search

France’s Sarkozy probed over alleged illegal campaign funding

Mounting corruption scandals and scarce popular support obstruct former president’s path back to power

Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and leader of France's  Republican Party speaks during a meeting on June 3, 2015. (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)
Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and leader of France's Republican Party speaks during a meeting on June 3, 2015. (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)

PARIS (AFP) — Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation Tuesday over alleged illegal campaign funding, in a new blow to his hopes of getting back into the Elysee Palace.

Sarkozy was questioned during the day over allegations of false accounting that allowed him to greatly exceed spending limits in 2012.

The head of conservative ‘The Republicans’ party is being formally probed over “illegal election campaign funding by having, as a candidate, exceeded the legal limit for electoral expenses,” said a statement by Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.

He was also designated as an “assisted witness” in connection with “accusations of using false documents, fraud and breach of trust,” it added.

The case against Sarkozy has hinged on the activity of PR firm Bygmalion, which organized some of Sarkozy’s appearances during his failed election campaign four years ago and is accused of using a vast system of false accounting.

Bygmalion allegedly charged 18.5 million euros ($21 million) to Sarkozy’s party — then called the UMP, but since renamed The Republicans — instead of billing the president’s re-election campaign.

As a result, the campaign was able to greatly exceed a spending limit of 22.5 million euros ($25 million), according to allegations.

Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog sought to downplay Tuesday’s announcement, expressing his “satisfaction” that the ex-president was not placed under formal investigation over the allegations of using false documents, fraud and breach of trust.

French right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party President, Nicolas Sarkozy attends the LR National Council on February 14, 2016 in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE)
French right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party President, Nicolas Sarkozy attends the LR National Council on February 14, 2016 in Paris. (AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE)

Sarkozy, 61, who led France from 2007 before losing to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012, has always denied any knowledge of the false accounting.

Shortly before the prosecutors’ announcement, Sarkozy ally and former interior minister Brice Hortefeux told French television that the ex-president’s “honesty and probity (had) not once been called into question.”

Bygmalion executives acknowledged the existence of fraud and false billing, but nobody has directly accused Sarkozy of having been aware or taken decisions about it.

“In my opinion it is impossible that he would have been told,” Jerome Lavrilleux, deputy chief of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign has said.

Sarkozy announced he was retiring from politics after the 2012 election but made a comeback just two years later, returning to lead The Republicans and lining himself up for party primaries this autumn in a bid to contest the presidential election in May 2017.

But his path back to power has been far rockier than expected.

Sarkozy is embroiled in several corruption scandals, and has failed to excite much popular support. He trails center-right rival Alain Juppe by a considerable margin in opinion polls.

Sarkozy’s ambitions have not been helped by a series of scandals, including allegations that he used money from late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his 2007 campaign, that he was involved in kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal in the 1990s, and that he tried to bribe a magistrate to get inside information on yet another corruption case in which he was implicated.

The Bygmalion case could prove the most damaging, especially after the investigation found that Sarkozy asked for more campaign events in mid-March 2012, around two months before the vote.

His campaign director, Guillaume Lambert, has told police he warned Sarkozy of the risk of breaching financing limits.

Questioned by police in September 2015, the former president said he did not remember the warning, and described the controversy as a “farce,” putting the responsibility squarely on Bygmalion and the UMP.

Since then, however, the investigation has widened beyond Bygmalion and is looking into a further 13.5 million euros in campaign spending by the UMP, of which only 3.0 million was declared at the time.

A total of 13 people have been charged from Bygmalion and the UMP with fraud, breach of trust or illegal campaign financing.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more:
comments