TIME France

Sarkozy Faces Charges in French Corruption Probe

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives with police by car at the financial investigation unit in Paris to be presented to a judge late July 1, 2014. Former French President Sarkozy was held for questioning for 15 hours on Tuesday over suspicions he used his influence to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his 2007 election campaign. Pascal Rossignol—Reuters

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the judicial investigation is being carried out independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in elections in 2012

(PARIS) — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his lawyer and a magistrate are facing preliminary charges in a corruption investigation linked to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, after a night of questioning by judicial officials.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the judicial investigation is being carried out independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in elections in 2012.

“This situation is serious, the facts are serious,” Valls told BFM television Wednesday. “The indictment concerns magistrates — high level magistrates — a lawyer, a former president of France. But as head of the government, I’m asking that we recall the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work serenely. No one is above the law, is the second principle. And thirdly, and it is important to remind it, there is the presumption of innocence which applies to everybody.”

Lawyers for Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy’s attorney, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, said the men were handed preliminary charges of influence trafficking. The French daily Le Monde says the questioning centers around whether Sarkozy and his lawyer were kept informed about the investigation into the Libyan allegations by Azibert in exchange for promises of a post in Monaco.

Azibert did not receive a job in Monaco.

Sarkozy has vigorously denied wrongdoing.

After further investigation, judges will determine whether to bring the case to trial.

Suspicions are based at least in part on taped phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.

Herzog’s lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, sharply criticized the decision to take the men into custody for questioning, which lasted into the early hours of Wednesday.

“None of these men is going to flee, they are not going to ignore a summons,” Iweins told France Info. “The only reason to detain them is to apply psychological pressure.”

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