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Former French President, Under Investigation, Levels Accusations

  • Lisa Bryant

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) leaves his residence in Paris, July 2, 2014.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) leaves his residence in Paris, July 2, 2014.

A scandal surrounding France's former leader has turned sharply partisan, with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy describing corruption and influence-peddling allegations against him as politically motivated.

On prime-time television Wednesday, he reaffirmed his innocence and denounced as "grotesque" claims he had engaged in unlawful behavior.

Sarkozy said a campaign was underway to humiliate him as he described the 15 hours he spent this week in police detention - an unprecedented procedure for a French leader.

He asked why magistrates investigating the case could not have simply summoned him to answer their questions.

Defeated in his re-election bid in 2012, Sarkozy is under formal judicial investigation, suspected of trying to get inside information from a judge about an inquiry into his 2007 presidential campaign.

Wiretapped conversations

Both his lawyer and the judge in question, Gilbert Azibert, are also under investigation, in a case that appears to be built on wiretapped conversations.

Sarkozy denounced the wiretaps, suggesting he was being singled out for unfair and scandalous treatment. He suggested the justice system had been manipulated for political ends.

The investigation into Sarkozy comes as he appeared poised for a political comeback two years after losing the election to Socialist President Francois Hollande.

Hollande is hugely unpopular and Sarkozy's own center-right UMP Party is in disarray, but this new investigation, one of several scandals surrounding Sarkozy, may derail his political hopes.

Sarkozy's supporters are cheering his offensive, but others are swift to criticize the 59-year-old former president.

Thursday on French radio, Socialist Party Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis accused Sarkozy of using his TV appearance to insult magistrates, the leftist government and Hollande.

In recent days, the Sarkozy allegations have gotten about as much media attention in France as the World Cup - in which the French football team has been playing strong.

Sarkozy, however, is performing less well.

A new CSA poll finds 65 percent of French are against his returning to political life.