FORMER French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation over allegations of bribery, “influence peddling” and violating professional secrecy.
After 15 hours of questioning, the former president appeared in front of a judge at the Tribunal de Grande Instance in the early hours of today, where he was placed under "mis en examen" the prosecution said in a statement to AFP.
There is no exact equivalent of "mis en examen", or placing a person under formal investigation, in British or US law but it is close to being charged.
A judge will now the case and decide if there is enough evidence to take the case to trial, and Mr Sarkozy's lawyers will now be given access to all files.
The process could take years.
It is the first time a former French head of state had been taken into custody for a criminal investigation. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac was convicted of corruption in 2011. He received a two-year suspended sentence, but was never taken into custody.
If convicted, Mr Sarkozy could face up to 10 years in jail.
Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog and magistrate, Gilbert Azibert - who had both been taken into custody on Monday with another magistrate - were also charged with influence peddling, their lawyers said.
It is alleged that Mr Azibert was promised a prestigious position in Monaco if he revealed confidential information about the progress of the Bettencourt case in the Supreme Court.
Mr Sarkozy was cleared last year of allegations that he illegally accepted millions of euros to fund his 2007 election campaign from the L’Oreal heiress.
But officials also believe that he was illegally tipped off that a mobile phone he was using under a fake name had been tapped by those investigating whether he also received money from Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.
Mr Sarkozy has maintained his innocence throughout a series of investigations that have dogged him since he lost the 2012 Presidential election, but his arrest is another blow to any plans he may have had to make a political comeback.
Rumours have been rife that he was planning to run for President in 2017, to the delight of grassroots UMP members, who a poll last month found, preferred him to other possible candidates, including two of the scandal-hit party’s temporary leaders, Alain Juppé and François Fillon.
His arrest has sparked outrage from loyalists in the UMP. Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, said: “No other former president has ever been treated so badly, or been subjected to such an outburst of hatred.”
Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll denied the Socialist Party are using the legal system to prevent Mr Sarkozy returning to politics. “Like any other citizen, Nicolas Sarkozy is answerable to the justice system,” he said.