France's Sarkozy charged with corruption
By Marion Thibaut and Nicolas Gaudichet, AFP
July 3, 2014, 12:05 am TWN
PARIS--France's former president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with corruption and influence peddling, French prosecutors said Wednesday, a dramatic move in a criminal probe that could wreck his hopes of a political comeback.
The decision came after Sarkozy was questioned for 15 hours, marking the first time a French ex-head of state had been taken into custody in a criminal investigation.
The right-wing leader had been detained at a police station in a Paris suburb over a suspected attempt to illegally influence judicial proceedings in one of a raft of colorful corruption cases he is implicated in.
After the lengthy questioning, the former president was taken in early Wednesday to appear before a judge, where he was "mis en examen" — put under formal investigation in what amounts to being charged, based on preliminary evidence — the prosecution said in a statement to AFP. He was then released while the investigation went ahead.
If convicted of the charges, Sarkozy could face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
"This situation is serious and the charges are serious ... and furthermore they concern senior magistrates, a lawyer and a former president," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday.
"The most important thing is for the judicial system to be able to work in a fully independent manner and peacefully and that the presumption of innocence is respected," Valls said on BFM television.
The prime minister denied suggestions that Sarkozy was being hounded by the Socialist government. "It's not us who are asking these judges to launch investigations," he said.
Sarkozy's longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog and a magistrate, Gilbert Azibert — taken into custody a day earlier alongside another magistrate — were both charged with influence peddling in a late night court appearance, their respective lawyers said.
Investigators suspect Sarkozy tried to obtain inside information from one of the magistrates about confidential proceedings in an illegal election campaign financing case, and that he was tipped off by a senior figure when judges tapped his phones.
Sarkozy, 59, has faced virtually non-stop legal battles since he left office following his defeat by Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the 2012 presidential vote.