FRANCE 24, LE MONDE, BBC, REUTERS
PARIS –Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation over claims his 2007 campaign was funded by “exploiting the weakness” of elderly Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oréal heiress and France’s richest woman.
Le Monde reports that Sarkozy's supporters in the current center-right opposition called the decision to open the investigation "a political act."
The announcement late Thursday, which still does not necessarily mean Sarkozy, 58, will be charged with any crime, nonetheless came as a surprise to many observers. Magistrates have long been looking into allegations that Sarkozy had accepted 150,000 euros ($193,740) from Bettencourt for his successful 2007 presidential campaign. Individual campaign funding cannot go over 4,600 euros ($5,941) in France, reports the BBC.
Bettencourt, now 90, and at the center of a long-running battle over control of the family fortune, was declared in a state of dementia in 2006, reports Reuters. The main accusation currently against Sarkozy are breaching of electoral law and abuse of person weakened by ill health, according to France 24.
Nicolas Sarkozy, Photo by busy.pochi
Sarkozy has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The former president, who has recently expressed interest in relaunching a run for presidential in 2017, has seen his popularity ratings rise since he left office last year.
Sarkozy lost immunity from prosecution when he was defeated in his 2012 bid for reelection, and now could face three years in prison, a fine of 375,000 euros ($483,975) and a five-year exclusion from politics, reports France 24.