Is Nicholas Sarkozy facing his Waterloo?
It’s been a bad week for ex-President Sarkozy.
He is the first head of state of the Fifth Republic to be hauled into a police station for questioning on criminal charges that could carry a five year sentence, if he is ever found guilty.
According to Le Figaro he got stuck in the lift of the drab grey office block in Nanterre Prefecture, a cement warren of high rise slabs housing an array of judicial departments.
Before the interrogation which lasted all day he also had to surrender his belt, get frisked and suffer the indignity of a judicial sandwich by way of lunch.
“Monsieur Bling Bling”, the diminutive former President with the Napoleon complex was referred to has fallen hard and fast.
The case in which he has now been charged is only one of six in which he’s directly or indirectly involved. They mostly deal with illegal campaign contributions to his 2007 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Illegal campaign contributions are a common European disease.
They brought down Italy’s elite in the 1990s tangentopoli epidemic of scandals. They helped to tarnish the legacy of Helmut Kohl, the most powerful German Chancellor before Angela Merkel.
Now they are causing havoc not just with Mr Sarkozy’s social diary but also with the helm of his party, the centre right wing UMP, currently run by an interim troika of veterans because the actual leader has to resign. He has been charged too.
Tonight Mr Sarkozy will do what he does well: fight from a corner like a kick boxer.
J’aime passionnément mon pays et je ne suis pas un homme qui se décourage. NS
— Nicolas Sarkozy (@NicolasSarkozy) July 2, 2014
His proxies have already accused the Socialists of President Holland of orchestrating the investigation as a dastardly plot to prevent Mr Bling Bling from bouncing back into politics with another stab at the Elysee Palace.
Derailing presidential bids with dirty tricks is a common accusation.
Remember the Socialists who believed that Dominique Strauss Kahn’s inevitable run on the presidency was foiled when the former head of the IMF was arrested in New York and charged with raping a chamber maid?
A plot orchestrated by then President Sarkozy they claimed, without ever providing any proof.
And let’s not forget ex-President Jacques Chirac, who received a three year suspended sentence for fraud during his time as mayor of Paris.
The bouillabaisse of sleaze has been seasoned by plenty of conspiracy theories.
It’s not surprising that the millions of French are turning their nose up at the political establishment and flirting with the once unpalatable National Front of Marine Le Pen.
If Mr Hollande is indeed behind the current charges against his predecessor it doesn’t seem to be helping much so far. His approval rating is at a record low of 14 per cent. Mr. Sarkozy is soaring with 33 percent despite the threat of jail.
And Marine le Pen, smiling to herself like a split water melon, is preparing to run in 2017. She told me as much in Marseille the other day.
Like Italy and Spain, France is in dire need of drastic institutional reform. As President Mr Sarkozy promised to deliver it by creating “rupture” with the past. Instead we got plenty of rupture from his wife.
Unless all the charges are thrown out and the investigations are spirited away, the only real rupture Mr Sarkozy will experience in the next few years is with his presidential ambitions and possibly with his liberty.
Follow @MattFrei on Twitter