FRANCE: Police raid may be beginning of Sarkozy’s legal woes – World News From Europe
While former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was enjoying a quiet holiday in Canada away from the limelight, police investigating allegations of illegal campaign funding on Tuesday raided his offices and the Paris home he shares with wife, Carla Bruni.
Sarkozy has been named in an investigation of alleged illegal campaign funding through France’s richest woman, billionaire L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, and her late husband André. Sarkozy strenuously denies any wrongdoing.
He can also expect to be questioned by police and courts over his role in other funding-linked scandals that dogged his term in office.
What are the accusations?
The “Bettencourt affair” erupted in 2010 when the then-president was named in a long-running family feud between Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers.
Various leaks to the media suggested that then-budget minister Eric Woerth, who was Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer in 2007, had received envelopes containing thousands of euros in illegal campaign funds.
Bettencourt accountant Claire Thibault told news website Mediapart that she had personally given Woerth 150,000 euros in cash, something that he denies.
Thibault said she could not prove that Sarkozy had personally received, or was aware of, any illicit funding.
“Many politicians visited the Bettencourts looking for campaign funding, it is well known,” she told Mediapart. “It is possible Mr Sarkozy was one of those people, but I was not present when the envelopes were distributed.”
How has the Sarkozy camp responded?
Sarkozy is being “extremely zen” about the situation, the former president’s close friend Patrick Balkany told daily Le Parisien on Wednesday, adding that the search was “judicial posturing” in front of the media.
Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said the raids would come up with nothing new and that he had already supplied information, including his 2007 appointments diary, to investigators that disproved any suspicions of secret meetings or underhand dealings with the Bettencourts.
“These raids … will, as expected, prove futile,” he said in a statement.
Before he left for his holiday in Canada, the former head of state said: “I know that they are going to search my property. Nothing will come of it.”
Why is this happening now?
French presidents enjoy immunity from judicial pursuit. Sarkozy, who was unseated by Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the May 6 presidential election, automatically lost his immunity on June 15.
The French courts have showed that being a former head of state does not guarantee leniency. In December 2011 Jacques Chriac, president from 1995 to 2007, was given a two-year (suspended) sentence for misusing public funds while he was mayor of Paris.
It is Sarkozy’s first legal wrangle following his term of office. It may not be the last.
What else is in store for Sarkozy?
Despite his confidence, Sarkozy is likely to have his hands full with various accusations that dogged his term in office and that can now be actively pursued by the courts.
The first is the “Karachigate” scandal, in which Sarkozy is alleged to have helped organise illegal kick-backs from the sale of submarines to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s.
This scandal is also linked to campaign funding, namely Edouard Balladur’s failed attempt in the 1995 presidential election. Sarkozy was Balladur’s campaign spokesman at the time.
It has been alleged that the subsequent cancellation of the kickback payments led to the killing of 11 French engineers in Karachi in 2002. An investigation is underway, and Sarkozy can now be called to give evidence to police or before a court.
Finally, in the 2011, embattled Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed that he had donated 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign, a claim that is not subject to any current inquiry.
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