FORMER President Nicolas Sarkozy has hit back at corruption charges against him, claiming that they are part of a politically motivated smear campaign.
In his first TV interview since leaving office in 2012, Mr Sarkozy maintained that he had never broken the law and had “never betrayed the confidence” of the French people.
In the interview, broadcast simultaneously on TF1 and radio station Europe 1, he described the charges against him as "grotesque", and said: “I have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.”
He said he was "deeply shocked" by the charges, and insisted that, "everything is being done to give me an image that is not truthful."
He questioned the impartiality of one of the judges investigating his case, because of her membership of a left-leaning magistrates’ union.
Those comments prompted a reaction from the Élysée Palace. President François Hollande, who ousted Mr Sarkozy in 2012, said France’s justice system was independent of political influence and warned that the presumption of innocence must be maintained.
And Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: “This relates to top-ranking magistrates, a lawyer and a former president of the republic.
"But as head of government, I respect the principles of the independence of the judiciary and the presumption of innocence."
As reported, Mr Sarkozy was detained on Tuesday and then placed under formal investigation in the early hours of Wednesday over allegations that he used his influence as President to learn about the progress of an investigation into the financing of his 2007 election.
It was the first time a former French president has been held in police custody.
Referring to his 15-hour detention on Tuesday, he asked: “Is it normal that I should be in custody for so long?”
He said that he was questioned without lawyers present and said: “There was an intention to humiliate me.”
He also responded to speculation about a possible political return. He said: “I will decide after a time of reflection at the end of August or early September, what I'll do.”
But a poll conducted shortly after last night’s broadcast suggested that nearly two-thirds of French people were against his political return.
The BFMTV survey found 65% of people did not want him to return to political life, compared to 33% who would like to see him come back.
Of those who said they supported his return, 72% were UMP supporters.
Photo: TF1 screengrab