Sarkozy’s legal woes roll on despite court ruling
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A probe into claims Nicolas Sarkozy received illegal funding for his successful 2007 presidential campaign has been dropped. But as he considers a political comeback, several other cases threaten serious damage to his reputation.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy may have been let off the hook Monday after prosecutors dropped charges against him that he received illegal funding from France’s richest woman, L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, for his 2007 presidential election campaign.
But while Sarkozy may feel relieved that he no longer features as a suspect in the case, the ongoing investigation into ten other suspects including his then-campaign manager Eric Woerth is likely to tarnish his reputation as he considers a political comeback in 2017.
Sarkozy’s headaches are by no means limited to the L’Oréal funding scandal. Despite the judicial immunity he enjoys for the years he served as French president, a number of ongoing cases could still do him considerable political damage.
The expensive ‘private’ opinion polls
Anti-corruption group Anticor has alleged that Sarkozy spent 9.4 million euros of public funds on opinion polls during his presidency, much of which found its way into the pockets of the former president’s friends and close advisers.
All Sarkozy’s actions during his tenure remain covered by his immunity as president, a status that was upheld by the Court of Cassation (France’s highest court, where top-level appeals are ruled on by senior judges) in 2011.
But Anticor charges that the polls, including several on the popularity of Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni, were of “private interest”, embezzled the public purse and were separate from his role as president, and therefore outside the bounds of his political immunity.
The case was re-opened early in 2013 and the home of Patrick Buisson, head of the Publifact polling agency and a close friend of Sarkozy’s, was searched by the authorities.
The ‘Karachi affair’
Sarkozy is a central character in the so-called “Karachi affair”, which goes back to the days when he was budget minister and campaign spokesman for former prime minister and presidential candidate Edouard Balladur.
Judges are investigating two of Sarkozy’s close friends, suspected of receiving illegal commissions from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan and of a frigate to Saudi Arabia during the early 1990s.
The payments were allegedly organised by Sarkozy through offshore accounts in Luxembourg, while the killing of 15 people, including 11 French engineers, in Karachi in 2001 has been linked to the subsequent cancellation of kickbacks to Pakistani officials.
403 million euros to French tycoon
Another ongoing case concerns former Socialist minister, singer and Olympique Marseille football club owner Bernard Tapie.
In 2008, the tycoon was awarded 403 million euros to settle a dispute with the now defunct, state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais over a 1993 share sale.
Tapie had claimed that the bank defrauded him by buying his stake in sports firm Adidas for 315.5 million euros only to sell it on a year later for 701 million.
Prosecutors suspect Tapie received preferential treatment in the settlement in return for his support for Sarkozy in the 2007 and 2012 elections.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde, who was Sarkozy’s finance minister and signed off the settlement, remains under investigation.
50 million euros from Libya?
Finally, Sarkozy is linked to allegations made by Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine that Libya handed over 50 million euros towards his successful 2007 presidential election campaign.
Takieddine, who has been charged with corruption in the “Karachi-affair” investigation, claimed in a December 2012 court hearing that he had proof the payments from Libya were organised by France’s former interior minister Claude Guéant.
Prosecutors opened an inquiry in April 2013 which centres on allegations of corruption, selling of political influence, abuse of public funds and money laundering.
Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing, while Guéant, who has dismissed the claims as "absolutely ridiculous", is suing Takieddine for defamation.