Nicolas Sarkozy to face trial for corruption, influence-peddling

Phone taps of French ex-president allegedly reveal plan to bribe prosecutor and influence inquiry

Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal woes deepened on Thursday after judges decided to send the former French president for trial over allegations of corruption and influence peddling.

The decision comes a week after the former leader spent two days in custody and was placed under formal investigation in a separate probe into alleged illicit Libyan campaign financing during his 2007 presidential campaign. The latest development was first reported by Le Monde and confirmed by a judicial source close to the case.

Mr Sarkozy, who denies the charges, is appealing against the ruling, Reuters reported, citing his lawyers. A spokeswoman for Mr Sarkozy did not return calls seeking comment.

If the judicial ruling is upheld by an appeal court, the trial would be the second that Mr Sarkozy would face as a prime suspect since retiring from politics in 2016. He is separately scheduled to appear in court over charges of fraud and false accounting during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign. Mr Sarkozy denies wrongdoing.

Phone taps

Investigators uncovered the alleged corruption by chance while probing allegations that Muammar Gadafy, the late Libyan dictator, had paid €50 million to Mr Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign. After tapping Mr Sarkozy's mobile phone, investigators intercepted conversations with his lawyer that allegedly revealed a plan to bribe a prosecutor and influence another inquiry into the funding of his 2007 campaign.

Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, said the phone taps revealed that Mr Sarkozy appeared to receive confidential information from the prosecutor and in return had seemed willing to help the judge get a job in Monaco. In connection with the case, Mr Sarkozy was summoned for 12 hours of questioning in police custody in 2016 and placed under formal investigation – one step short of a formal indictment.

Threats of litigation have for years hung over Mr Sarkozy, who retired from politics in 2016 after losing primary elections for the centre-right presidential nomination.

Last week, Mr Sarkozy was also placed under formal investigation in connection with the probe into the allegations involving Mr Gadafy – an indication that there is substantial evidence. Mr Sarkozy, who has called the allegations “grotesque”, could still be released with no charge.

The Libyan case is easily the most spectacular of the allegations about Mr Sarkozy. It has been building since Ziad Takieddine, a middleman in the alleged transaction, claimed 18 months ago that he had carried €5 million in cash from Tripoli to Paris in 2006 and handed the money to Claude Guéant, who was then Mr Sarkozy’s chief of staff. Former Libyan officials in the Gaddafi regime have previously made similar claims.

Last week, Mr Sarkozy vowed to restore his honour and “crush” those responsible for what he described as a “machination”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018