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France

Sarkozy's UMP party 'almost €80 million in debt'

© Afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-08

The conservative UMP party of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy must cut costs and seek new lines of credit as its debts rose to almost €80 million ($109 million), an independent audit concluded on Tuesday.

The UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), France’s main opposition party, is already at the centre of a legal inquiry into whether party officials used its books to cover up millions of euros of overspending on Sarkozy’s failed 2012 re-election campaign.

Sarkozy was questioned and placed under formal investigation July 1 on suspicion of influence-peddling and other crimes in connection with a probe into a series of alleged misdeeds in the financing of his 2007 election campaign.

While Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing, his many legal troubles have cast doubt over his hopes to make a political comeback in time for presidential elections in 2017.

Opponents, including those from among President François Hollande’s ruling Socialists, have used the UMP’s funding woes to argue that it cannot be trusted with running the eurozone’s second-largest economy after Germany.

But the UMP said the audit is evidence of the party's commitment to "transparency".

“This audit is intended to give total transparency into the UMP’s accounts and provide an analysis that should guarantee the survival of the movement,” the party said in a statement.

The audit, conducted by an external firm of accountants, puts the UMP's total debt at €79.1 million euros, half from the purchase and refurbishment of new party headquarters in Paris three years ago and the rest accumulated over the years through 2013.

In May, a senior UMP official acknowledged the existence of funding "anomalies" to cover up spending excesses for Sarkozy’s 2012 re-election campaign, an admission that triggered the resignation of party chairman Jean-François Copé. Local media have put the campaign spending excess at up to €17 million.

The audit concluded that, if the party wished to continue its activities, it must undertake "a renegotiation of banking deadlines for 2017 and a tighter marshalling of party expenses".

Sarkozy, who remains a favourite with conservatives but is less popular with centrist and left-wing voters, has said he will make his political intentions known by early September.

He faces a possible challenge for the UMP presidential nomination from former prime minister Alain Juppé, who was Sarkozy's foreign minister, and François Fillon, who served as his premier.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-08

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