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Sarkozy's comeback hampered by new legal woes

Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP | Former president Nicolas Sarkozy applauded by supporters at a rally near Paris, October 2014

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was linked to new two corruption probes this week, adding to an already significant list of legal woes as he attempts to stage a return to French politics.

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French judges formally opened an investigation in March 2013 into allegations of illegal kickbacks from the sale of 45 helicopters to Kazakhstan in 2010, during Sarkozy’s time as president, French media revealed on Tuesday.

Jean-François Etienne des Rosaies and Nathalie Gonzalez-Prado, high-ranking advisors in Sarkozy’s conservative administration at the time of the 2-billion-euro sale, were detained for questioning by police last month, the newspaper Le Monde reported.

The leading daily said judges in Paris were now probing allegations of money laundering, bribery of foreign officials, and conspiracy to cover up these crimes.

Police searched the homes of the two suspects, as well as the headquarters of Eurocopter, the company that built the Kazakhstan-bound aircraft, according to an unidentified judicial source.

Le Monde added that Sarkozy was himself suspected of having pressured Belgian lawmakers in 2011 into softening legal sentences against three Kazakh nationals in that country, as part of the helicopter deal.

Compounding legal woes

The allegations of Kazakh kickbacks came a day after Sarkozy was implicated in another probe.

On Monday a Paris judge opened a new chapter into the ongoing Bygmalion investigation, a cover-up of campaign overspending by Sarkozy’s UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party during his failed re-election bid in 2012.

Several people who worked closely with Sarkozy during the presidential race have admitted they used falsified invoices to conceal overspending from France’s election oversight body, but most of them claim Sarkozy was unaware of the illegal practices.

However, Bastien Millot, co-founder of the event planning company –– Bygmalion –– that issued the infamous invoices, has said Sarkozy must have been aware of cost overruns.

More determined

Sarkozy, who announced two weeks ago he wanted to lead the main opposition UMP party once again, reacted by saying that the new allegations only made him more determined to push ahead.

“I don’t like injustice, I don’t like lies. If they wanted me to stay quietly in my corner, then they shouldn’t have acted like that,” he told supporters on Monday evening.

“This will all be calmly cleared up, including the Bygmalion stories,” he added.

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