After an overnight court hearing, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is placed under formal investigation over suspicions he tried to stop an investigation into his 2007 election campaign.
French police quizzed Sarkozy on Tuesday for almost 15 hours – the first time a former French president has been held by police. In the early hours of Wednesday morning he was transferred from a police station in the Paris suburb of Nanterre to the court where magistrates will run an inquiry.
Authorities are investigating whether Sarkozy used his influence as president to get information on an inquiry into funding irregularities in his 2007 election win.
He is suspected of influence-peddling, corruption and benefiting from “the breach of professional secrets”, the prosecutor’s office said. Sarkozy denies all the allegations.
Sarkozy’s lawyer and a judge involved in the case were similarly placed under formal investigation on suspicion of influence peddling, their lawyers said.
Formal investigations by magistrates often, but not always, leads to a trial. Influence-peddling can be punished by up to five years in prison and active corruption carries a sentence up to 10 years.
The inquiry is one of six legal cases hanging over Sarkozy. The latest inquiry is another setback to any ambitions Sarkozy has of standing in the 2017 presidential election.
Last October, magistrates dropped a formal investigation into whether Sarkozy had exploited France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, to fund his 2007 election campaign.
However, as investigators used phone-taps to examine separate allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded the same campaign, they began to suspect he had kept tabs on the Bettencourt case through a network of informants.
Those suspicions finally prompted police to launch an inquiry in February, which led to Wednesday’s formal investigation. Under French law, a suspect is not technically charged with a crime until later in the process.