PARIS: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in police custody Tuesday, apparently under questioning in an investigation linked to allegations that he took $50 million in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
But will the detention and sordid case torpedo Sarkozy’s chances at a presidential comeback? Maybe not.
Sarkozy, a political survivor who’s been touring the world with his pop singer wife, is still among the most popular politicians in France despite a pile of investigations that target him.
The 59-year-old hasn’t been convicted of anything and remains well-known on the international stage. And he may be his troubled conservative party’s best chance to regain the presidency in 2017, after losing it to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.
A judicial official said Sarkozy was detained for questioning Tuesday at the headquarters of the judicial police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named while discussing an ongoing investigation, would not elaborate. French police, prosecutors and other judicial officials would not provide any details.
Sarkozy could be held up to 24 hours, which could be extended for another day. After the questioning, he could be released without charge, named as a witness in the case or handed preliminary charges.
French media reports say Sarkozy is being questioned in an investigation linked to financing for his 2007 presidential campaign, notably allegations that late Libyan leader Gadhafi gave Sarkozy illegal campaign donations.
The French daily Le Monde, which has covered the case closely, says the questioning centers around whether Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, were kept informed about the investigation by a friendly magistrate, Gilbert Azibert.
Herzog and Azibert were also held for questioning Tuesday.
Sarkozy and Herzog have denied wrongdoing. Azibert’s lawyer told reporters he hoped the detention would be over by the evening. He had not been released as The Daily Star went to press.
Investigators are basing suspicions at least in part on taped phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer. The taping raised questions about the limits between investigative needs and individual privacy, particularly lawyer-client privilege. Sarkozy has compared the situation to actions by the secret police in the old East Germany.
Allies from Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party – which has been in a leadership crisis – jumped to the former president’s defense.
“They have never imposed such treatment on a former president, with such a surge of hate,” lawmaker Christian Estrosi tweeted.
Former French President Jacques Chirac was convicted in a corruption case in 2011 after he left office, but when he was questioned he was not held in police custody.
The Socialist government tried to stay above the fray.
Opinion polls show Sarkozy in a strong potential position for 2017 election.