Nicolas Sarkozy: A patchwork of ex-president's legal woes

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves the Paris prosecutor's office in July 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Sarkozy became the first ex-president of France to be detained in police custody

France's former centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy is now facing trial over alleged illegal campaign funding during the race for the 2012 presidency.

Ever since he left the Elysee Palace, his political ambitions have been overshadowed by investigations. His bid to return to power failed in 2012 and he was beaten in his party's vote to choose a presidential candidate for the 2017 election.

Why is Sarkozy facing trial?

The affair, known as the Bygmalion scandal, centres on claims that Mr Sarkozy's party, then known as the UMP, connived with a friendly PR company to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign.

France sets a €22.5m (£19m;$24m) limit on campaign spending, and it is alleged the firm Bygmalion provided a series of false invoices to Mr Sarkozy's party for €18m rather than the campaign. Investigators say that the false accounting enabled the party to spend well over the limit.

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Sarkozy himself, 61, is accused of knowingly exceeding the spending limit by setting up campaign rallies even though he had been warned of the risk. He is appealing against the order to stand trial.

Read more here:France's Sarkozy ordered to face trial

Employees at Bygmalion have admitted knowledge of the ruse and Mr Sarkozy is now among 14 people caught up in the affair to face trial. The other suspects include ex-UMP colleague Eric Cesari, campaign heads Guillaume Lambert and Jerome Lavrilleux as well as Bygmalion staff.

As well as illegal campaign financing, the accusations involve forgery, abuse of trust, fraud, and complicity in illegal financing.

Has this harmed him?

The succession of legal difficulties Nicolas Sarkozy has encountered have clearly had an effect at least on public perception of the ex-president.

He came a poor third in party primaries in November when the threat of the Bygmalion case was hanging over him. And yet not long before he was being seen as a real prospect for the Elysee Palace. He was behind the rebranding of the UMP as the Republicans.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Sarkozy was well beaten in the centre-right Republican primaries in November

Mr Sarkozy has denied that he was aware of the overspending and he has spoken out against a series of judicial affairs that have dogged him in recent years.

"No controversy, no manoeuvre, no manipulation however shameful will deflect me," he told supporters in September 2016.

What else has he been caught up in?

Mr Sarkozy in 2014 became the first former French head of state to be held in police custody, in an completely separate case that was also linked to alleged illegal campaign funding.

He was formally placed under investigation on suspicion of seeking to influence judges, who were looking into alleged secret financing of his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

The allegations centred around wiretapped phone-calls in which Mr Sarkozy used a mobile under the name of Paul Bismuth. As a result of the intercepts, Mr Sarkozy was suspected of discussing the idea of offering a prestigious role in Monaco to a high-ranking judge, Gilbert Azibert, in exchange for information on the secret financing case.

The wiretap case was wrapped up last year without charge and the original secret financing affair came to an end in 2013. Mr Sarkozy was cleared of taking funding from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt to help him win the 2007 election.

There are also long-standing claims of campaign funding by the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - something Mr Sarkozy strongly denies.

What's he had to say?

Mr Sarkozy wrote about the Bygmalion scandal in a book published in 2015.

"It will no doubt be hard to believe, but I swear it is the strict truth: I knew nothing about this company until the scandal broke," he said.

Regarding claims of influence peddling, he has firmly denied doing anything "contrary to the values of the republic or the rule of law".

He has spoken of "political interference", suggesting that the judges who had ordered that he be questioned in custody had an "intention to humiliate".

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