• Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (c) is under investigation on corruption (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Sarkozy risks jail in corruption probe

02.07.14 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy could face up to five years in prison and a €500,000 fine on allegations of corruption and influence peddling.

The embattled centre-right politician was released from police custody late Tuesday (1 July) and is now under formal investigation.

Sarkozy is suspected to have attempted to obstruct an investigation into the financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. He denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated.

Authorities on Monday had already placed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and a judge under formal investigation. Both their homes were raided.

The affair revolves around persistent allegations that former Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddafi secretly paid out millions in euros to help fund Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential bid.

A formal investigation on the Gaddafi campaign links was launched last year.

In an effort to gain an inside track into the inquiry, Sarkozy allegedly sought to turn people inside the judiciary into informants.

The informants are said to have told Sarkozy that investigators had tapped his phone.

In one taped conversation, Sarkozy and his lawyer are allegedly heard seeking help from a judge.

In exchange for the information, Sarkozy is said to have helped the judge obtain a prestigious position in Monaco.

"These events only rely on phone taps ... whose legal basis will be strongly contested," said a lawyer representing Thierry Herzog, reports AFP.

A French government spokesperson said Sarkozy is "subject to justice just like everyone else".

There are other allegations against the former president, which will likely make his bid to take over the rudderless French centre-right UMP party in autumn all the more difficult.

Aside from taking a beating in the European elections and coming second behind Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the UMP was already embroiled in another scandal.

The party is said to have filed up to €17 million in fake invoices to finance Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign. The fake invoices were drawn up in order to spend more than the legal cap of €22.5 million on presidential campaigns.

Jean-Francois Cope, the party’s head, resigned last month as a consequence.

Investigators had also looked into claims Sarkozy secured illicit funds from French L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt to fund his 2007 presidential bid.

Sarkozy was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt case, but not his former campaign treasurer, who is facing trial.