Skip to main content

Attorney: Sarkozy under formal investigation in campaign funding case

By CNN Staff
March 22, 2013 -- Updated 0806 GMT (1606 HKT)
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (C) leaves Bordeaux' courthouse on March 21, 2013.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (C) leaves Bordeaux' courthouse on March 21, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nicolas Sarkozy served as France's president between 2007 and 2012
  • Two months after he left that post, authorities raided his home and office
  • An investigative judge has placed him under formal investigation for breach of trust, his attorney says
  • Sarkozy is accused of taking advantage of an elderly L'Oreal heiress to fund a campaign

(CNN) -- An investigative judge has placed former French President Nicolas Sarkozy under formal investigation for breach of trust, accusing him of taking advantage of elderly L'Oreal cosmetic heiress Liliane Bettencourt to help fund his 2007 campaign, Sarkozy's attorney said, according to CNN affiliate BFM-TV.

The former president was summoned to appear at Judge Jean-Michel Gentil's office in Bordeaux on Thursday in a case in which he is suspected of accepting illegal contributions from Bettencourt and her staff, BFM-TV said.

His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said that he intends to appeal the ruling, according to BFM-TV.

The Bettencourt scandal has fascinated France since questions about the finances of France's richest woman emerged in 2011 amid a family feud.

Although formal, the investigation of Sarkozy, 58, is considered preliminary, and could lead to trial or may go no further.

The son of a Hungarian refugee father and French mother, Sarkozy was 28 when he became mayor of Neuilly, a Paris suburb. He left that post in 2002 to serve as interior minister and then finance minister under President Jacques Chirac. (Chirac was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges tied to his time as Paris mayor.)

Ten days after his runoff election win, Sarkozy became president in 2007.

He served in that capacity for the next five years, garnering praise for his work on foreign policy issues and criticism for his handling of domestic issues as France's economy sputtered and unemployment rate hovered at about 10%.

In May 2012, Francois Hollande beat Sarkozy in his bid to win a second term as president.

And just over two months later -- one day after he and his family were set to head off to Canada for a vacation -- police raided his home and office as part of their investigation into possible illegal campaign financing, according to Herzog.

"It's not a surprise," Christian Mallard, a senior foreign analyst for France Television, said at the time. After losing his re-election bid, Sarkozy "was going to lose his diplomatic immunity," opening him up to potential prosecution.

In fact, the probe appeared well under way by then. In September -- when Sarkozy was still president -- three investigators engaged in an hourlong search of his political party headquarters, seeking documents linking his campaign to the alleged political contributions from Bettencourt.

Judge Jean-Michel Gentil questioned the former French leader in November for 12 hours concerning evidence given by Bettencourt's former accountant, Claire Thibout, BFM-TV reported.

Afterward, authorities said they'd decided not to pursue a formal investigation of Sarkozy, but rather to treat him as what officials call a "witness-under-caution."

The phrase is a technical term that essentially allows a French magistrate to continue to call the ex-president to the witness stand. At the same time, it didn't close the door to Sarkozy facing criminal charges stemming from allegedly illicit campaign donations.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
For years, Morten Storm moved between two worlds. A radical Islamist turned double agent is lifting the lid on some of the world's best-kept secrets.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
What will happen to Scotland's business (not to mention its currency) if they vote to leave?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
The Ebola virus, very deadly and currently without a cure, is fast-spreading throughout the small West African country.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Go to any provincial city in China and you'd be forgiven for thinking the national youth pastimes are online gaming and flirting.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
ISIS has captured the minds of a new generation of global jihadists. What does it mean for al Qaeda?
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
ISIS has slaughtered hundreds. Now nearly 40 nations have agreed to take the fight to the militants. But what can they do?
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 0851 GMT (1651 HKT)
North Korea calls its human rights a "superior system."
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
In Wenzhou, called the "Jerusalem of China," authorities have demolished churches.
Are you Muslim? What do you want the world to know about your religion?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1429 GMT (2229 HKT)
A number of Paralympic athletes in Ghana are hoping to use sport to change negative public perceptions.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT