Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was formally charged in the early hours of Wednesday after 15 hours of questioning by police. He is accused of influence-peddling.
Sarkozy spent almost all of Tuesday 01.07.2014) being questioned by police officers in Nanterre, west of Paris, in an investigation linked to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
Sarkozy is also suspected of having used his influence to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his 2007 election campaign.
Reuters news agency reported that one of their journalists saw him arriving at a civil court in Paris at around 11:40pm local time, where he was to be presented to judges. Under French law, being sent before the court is the next step in the possible opening of a formal investigation against a suspect – a step that often, but not always, leads to trial.
Sarkozy denies all wrongdoing, but his attorney Thierry Herzog and a judge involved in the case, Gilbert Azibert, were put under formal investigation on suspicion of influence peddling a day before.
The dramatic developments marks the first time that a former French head of state has been placed in custody. Sarkozy lost presidential immunity from legal prosecution a month after he left office in June 2012, and if convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of 500,000 euros.
The probe is one of six legal cases involving Sarkozy, directly or indirectly, including allegations of irregularities in his unsuccessful 2012 election campaign.
Last October a court dropped inquiries into whether he had exploited the mental frailty of France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, to fund that campaign.
But as investigators used phone-taps to examine separate allegations that Gadhafi funded the same campaign, a new suspicion arose that he had kept tabs on the Bettencourt case through a network of informants.
Those suspicions finally prompted the formal launching of yet another investigation into influence-peddling in February.
Sarkozy has likened the magistrates behind the phone-tapping to the “Stasi” police of former communist East Germany.