Sarkozy Appears in Court, Faces Fraud Charges

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011.
Photo: Flickr.com/Guillaume Paumier

by Sasha Papazoff

While his party is falling apart following an election night disaster and multiple accusations of fraud, Sarkozy is facing his own turmoil and is at risk of bringing the whole UMP down with him. On November 22, the former president was facing the threat of indictment in three different legal cases for corruption and misuse of public funds. He was eventually let go with the statute of assisted witness, which means he could still be indicted as part of the investigation.

The former president was ordered to appear before the Bordeaux court this Thursday morning to answer questions about the funding of his 2007 presidential campaign. He presented himself at 9:30 AM. Allegations from an accountant for Liliane Bettencourt, owner of L’Oréal and the richest woman in France, that she received 150,000 euros in cash and was told to hand it to Sarkozy, sparked an inquiry in May of 2011. Bettencourt’s trusted friend Patrice de Maistre could also have helped the former president benefit from some of the 4 million euros he is suspected to have helped move from several Swiss bank accounts for the benefit of French politicians.

Private donations to political parties are limited under French law to a total of 4,600 euros, and all the accounting books must be handed to the Electoral Commission. The overall limit of electoral funds is set at 17 million euros for a campaign, and half of this sum is reimbursed to parties who reached more than 5% of the vote. Receiving illegal donations could therefore not only result in a prison sentence but also in a fine of millions of euros.

However, Sarkozy will not be indicted for electoral fraud since the statute of limitation is set at three years. The prosecution is looking into the matter in the scope of taking advantage of an elderly person, given Bettencourt’s age (90 years old) and her reduced mental capabilities since 2006.

Sarkozy is also suspected of giving preferential treatment and of misuse of public fund for ordering several polls he claimed were of national interest and charging them as government expense when it fact, they were both unnecessary and mostly had to do with his reelection campaign, according Anticor, an anti-corruption group. Both beneficiaries were close friends, Patrick Buisson (with a €3 million contract) and Pierre Giacometti (a €2.5 million contract).

The Karachi affair

Another case implicating the former president is the scandal known as the Karachi affair, following a terrorist attack that killed 11 French citizens in Karachi in 2002.

The Karachi affair started with the contract for the sale of French warships and weaponry to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in 1994. Sarkozy, who was Budget Minister at the time, is suspected of setting off-shore accounts to receive kickbacks from Pakistan in order to fund the 1995 presidential campaign of Edouard Balladur against Jacques Chirac. The 2002 attack that claimed the lives of French and Pakistani contractors is considered to have been a backlash for the said contract. The case may be a few years old, but it is still relevant, as the investigation is still currently ongoing, and makes the headlines regularly. The house of the former Minister of Defense Léotard was searched by police on Tuesday and on Thursday, and former Minister and friend of Sarkozy Brice Hortefeux was recently fined 5000 euros for threats made against the lawyer of the families of the victims.

The Sarkozy years ran high with several major scandals coming to light, however, under the French presidential immunity, the former president is protected from prosecution. He could however be judged by the special instance known as the Justice Court of the Republic for accusations in his years as a Minister, and by any civil court for his actions during his campaign.

At the end of these proceedings, M. Sarkozy could face indictment.

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