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Another legal blow to Nicolas Sarkozy

Paris prosecutors launch preliminary inquiry into possible “breach of trust” over payment of a €500,000 penalty

FORMER President Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal headaches intensified after a fresh inquiry was launched into the payment a €500,000 penalty imposed for campaign funding irregularities during his failed 2012 campaign.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said yesterday that it is looking into whether Mr Sarkozy should have paid the penalty imposed on him that was covered by his UMP party.

France’s campaign financing watchdog CNCCFP announced in 2012 that Mr Sarkozy had gone beyond the €22.5million spending ceiling allotted to his UMP party.

It ordered him to pay back a €150,000 state advance and the €364,000 he had overspent.

That ruling, upheld by the Constitutional Court last July, also meant the UMP could not claim back €10.6 million in election expenses.

It almost destroyed the party - and prompted the now-notorious “Sarkothon” fundraising campaign to cover the party’s shortfall in funding.

The prosecutor’s investigation centres on a possible “abuse of trust” about the payment of the fine.

François Logerot, president of the CNCCFP, said: “These penalties were applied to the candidate himself, who is responsible for his account.”

Legal expert Jean-Christophe Ménard told France TV Info that any penalty of this type “must be assumed by the person who is the recipient”.

But UMP’s legal representative Philippe Blanchetier said that everyone who had contributed to the “Sarkothon” knew what the money raised would be used for.

Last Tuesday, Mr Sarkozy was detained for 15 hours in police custody for questioning – a first in modern history for a former French president.

He was later placed under formal investigation.

A separate probe is looking into whether late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi channeled secret funds into his 2007 campaign.

Magistrates are also investigating whether then-President Sarkozy misused public funds to stage a meeting in Toulon in December 2011.

And he could yet become embroiled in the so-called Bygmalion affair that has already cost Jean-François Copé
his job as UMP president.

Mr Sarkozy has maintained his innocence throughout, and last week hit back at what he called the “politically motivated” legal charges against him in a TV broadcast.

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