Sarkozy speaks out amidst series of scandals

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy while in office. Photo: Antonis Samaras for flickr.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy while in office. Photo: Antonis Samaras for flickr.

For the first time since he lost his reelection campaign in 2012, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has given a public statement defending himself in the wake of a series of political scandals that have plagued him since he left office.

He published an address in Le Figaro on March 21, criticizing the actions of the French state under current French President Francois Hollande.

“The sacred principles of our Republic are trampled,” he said. Sarkozy lamented the deteriorating respect for citizens’ private lives, citing the French government’s surveillance of his own actions as his primary example—the administration had authorized wiretapping of his phones for the past eight months in an effort to gather intelligence on several ongoing investigations on the former president.

“I never asked to be above the law, but I cannot accept being below it,” he said.

One of the high-profile investigations Sarkozy has faced recently is the resurfacing of the Bettencourt affair. On March 11, the Cour de cassation, France’s court of final appeal for civil and criminal matters, ruled against Sarkozy in his appeal to have the seizure of his diaries, agenda, and other personal documents declared illegal.  His lawyer had previously argued that Sarkozy was protected by his presidential immunity.

Police had originally confiscated the diaries in 2013 as evidence against Sarkozy in the investigation questioning the legality of his campaign funds in 2007. Sarkozy and the rest of his party, the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) had been accused of receiving illegal donations from French L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. Officials allege that Sarkozy took advantage of 91-year-old Bettencourt’s deteriorating mental state and persuaded her to donate to his party’s campaign.

The scandal came to be known as the Bettencourt affair, but charges were dropped in October 2013.

Though the diaries cannot be used in the Bettencourt case, magistrates can use them in the Bernard Tapie affair. Tapie, a ruined businessman, had received a 400 million euro payout to settle a dispute with the French state in 2008, and Sarkozy is accused of intervening on Tapie’s behalf in return for his support in the 2007 presidential election. Though Sarkozy denies the allegations, the diaries, which date from 2007 to 2011, can be used as evidence to illustrate the pair’s close friendship.

The court’s March 11 ruling resurfaces the scandal and presents a setback to the former president’s political trajectory—Sarkozy had hinted that he would run for presidency again in 2017.

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