The saga of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s seemingly endless legal woes took a fresh turn Wednesday when the ruling Socialist government admitted it was aware that his phones had been tapped.
Sarkozy's opposition conservatives, torn by in-fighting and facing allegations over irregular party funding, jumped on the chance to accuse Hollande of attempting to discredit the right wing ahead of local elections later this month.
Christian Jacob, parliamentary speaker for the conservative UMP party, said the government's acknowledgment that it knew about the phone tapping was "extremely serious" and demanded an emergency session of parliament on the matter.
His counterpart in the ruling Socialist party accused the UMP of seeking to distract attention from allegations that its current leader, Sarkozy protegé Copé, was involved in irregular party funding practices.
"This is just a diversion tactic," Socialist Party parliamentary chief Bruno Le Roux told Reuters. "Parliament can't open its own inquiry into something that is already a judicial matter."
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirmed a report in satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé that both he and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira had been made aware of the phone tapping on February 26.
"The justice minister received the information, subsequently passed on to me, that a new investigation had been opened regarding extremely serious matters. That's when I learnt of it (the phone tapping)," he told France 2 television late Tuesday.
Ayrault stressed however that neither he nor Taubira had seen transcripts from the phone tapping, which investigators launched last year after allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign.
Sarkozy planning comeback
Sarkozy, who has dropped hints he is preparing to run again for president in 2017 (after being ousted by Hollande in 2012) has denied all wrongdoing.
Separately, Paris chief state prosecutor Francois Falletti confirmed that investigators had informed the government of "certain elements" of the inquiry, without specifying whether that also included details picked up by the phone tapping.
"Prosecutors report the most important elements to the justice ministry anyway," Faletti told Europe 1 radio.
The inquiry is still in its preliminary stage and French legal procedure mandates that it remain secret. No details of the taped conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer have yet been made public.
French voters go to the polls on March 23 and 30 in local elections, the first major test of Hollande's popularity since he came to office in May 2012.
His poll ratings are at record lows for what voters have identified as a failure to tackle unemployment and start turning around the eurozone's second-largest economy.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-12