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French court drops probe into Sarkozy campaign cash

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-07

A French court on Monday dropped a formal investigation into illegal campaign financing by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been under investigation since March for allegedly accepting funds from L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

A formal investigation targeting former French president Nicolas Sarkozy over financing of his successful 2007 election campaign was dropped on Monday, judicial sources told the AFP news agency.

Sarkozy had been under investigation since March for allegedly accepting funds from France's richest woman, L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, when doctors said she was too frail to know what she was doing.

The decision to drop the charges could clear the way for Sarkozy to return to frontline politics in time for the 2017 presidential election. He remains more popular with right-wing voters than any other figure in his UMP party and is widely expected to seek a political comeback.

Sarkozy, 58, has always maintained that he visited Bettencourt's residence only once during his 2007 campaign, contrary to testimony from several members of the multi-millionaire's staff.

A former accountant for the heiress, Claire Thibout, told police in 2010 that she had given envelopes stuffed with cash to Bettencourt's right-hand man, Patrice de Maistre, on the understanding it was to be passed on to Sarkozy's campaign treasurer, Eric Woerth.

Investigators suspect that up to €4 million of Bettencourt's cash subsequently made its way into UMP party coffers.

Sarkozy lost his immunity from prosecution when he was defeated in the 2012 presidential election by Socialist François Hollande. French judges have already demonstrated a readiness to go after former leaders with their successful pursuit of Sarkozy's presidential predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges relating to his time as mayor of Paris.

Sarkozy was facing up to three years in prison, a fine of €375,000 and a five-year exclusion from politics if he was found guilty.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-07

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