Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was on Wednesday night mis en examen or formally placed under investigation on charges of "passive corruption, illegal campaign financing and possession of Libyan public funds".
Three examining magistrates placed Mr Sarkozy “under legal control” which may limit his freedom to travel and requires him to inform judges of his movements.
The judges took their decision after Mr Sarkzoy was held in police custody for 25 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday for questioning in connection with alleged Libyan financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. He was released at 8pm on Wednesday night and had been allowed to go home from midnight until 8am yesterday morning.
Ségolène Royal, the former socialist candidate who lost the 2007 election to Mr Sarkozy, tweeted: “Justice is making progress. My thoughts go to the millions of citizens who have the right to know if the match was fair.”
Mr Sarkozy's supporters parroted the arguments he has used since the Libyan scandal broke in 2012: that he is the victim of media harassment, and that his accusers are embittered former acolytes of the dictator Muammar Gadafy, who blame the French and British bombardment of Libya for Gadafy's overthrow and death.
One of Mr Sarkozy's last televised interviews was during the primary campaign for the conservative Les Républicains nomination in November 2017. The Franco-Lebanese middle man and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine had just told the Mediapart investigative website that he personally handed Mr Sarkozy €1.5 million from Gadafy in 2007.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” Mr Sarkozy hectored the television presenter. “Aren’t you ashamed to repeat the words of a man who has been in prison, who has been convicted innumerable times for defamation, and who is a liar?”
William Bourdon, a lawyer and the founding president of the anti-corruption group Sherpa, a civil plaintiff in the Libyan case, said he "cannot imagine that the detention of a former president of the Republic is not based on an accumulation of convincing and convergent evidence".
‘Law of silence’
The Libyan investigation is being conducted by “three seasoned judges” who have spent five years battling “obstruction and the law of silence”, Mr Bourdon said.
Juicy tidbits of information continue to emerge. For example, investigators learned that Claude Guéant, Mr Sarkozy's right-hand man, also known as "the Cardinal", rented a walk-in safe at the BNP bank on the place de l'Opéra during the 2007 campaign. Mr Guéant says he needed it for archives. He has already been mis en examen in the case, and has been unable to provide a convincing explanation as to how he purchased a Paris apartment for €717,500 in 2008, almost entirely in cash.
The Libyan investigation has revealed that Mr Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer dispensed tens of thousands of euro in cash bonuses to drivers, secretaries and other low level campaign employees in 2007.
Since losing Les Républicains primary in 2016, Mr Sarkozy has continued to play a godfather-like role behind the scenes. "A tiger never becomes a vegetarian," Brice Hortefeux, who was Mr Sarkozy's interior minister, said last May.
Mr Hortefeux was also questioned all day on Tuesday, but was not taken into custody because he enjoys immunity as a member of the European Parliament.
Laurent Wauquiez, who became LR leader last December, was another Sarkozy protege. But their relations chilled after Mr Wauquiez told students in Lyon that Mr Sarkozy distrusted his own cabinet ministers so much that he had their phones tapped.
Mr Sarkozy is already mis en examen in two other scandals. The "Bygmalion affair" concerns fraudulent accounting in his 2012 presidential campaign. In the "Azibert affair", based on wire taps of phone calls between Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer, the former president is accused of obtaining confidential information from a supreme court judge by promising him a post in Monaco.
In all, Mr Sarkozy has been associated with at least 10 scandals involving illicit funds or influence-peddling. One case involves pressure on Belgian parliamentarians to let off Kazakh oligarchs accused of pocketing illegal commissions on helicopters purchased from the Sarkozy administration. In another, lucrative contracts were awarded to Sarkozy advisers without bids for tender.
Charges against Mr Sarkozy were dismissed in three of the 10 cases.