Furious Sarkozy lashes out at corruption allegations
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy broke his silence Thursday over corruption allegations threatening his chances of a political comeback, comparing his country to a dictatorship as he angrily fought back against a phone-tap scandal.
The 59-year-old has found himself at the heart of an increasingly tangled web of scandals, culminating with allegations in the press this month that he attempted to pervert the course of justice — information reportedly gleaned from excerpts of tapped phone conversations with his lawyer.
Until now, he had remained firmly silent and the publication this week of more detailed extracts of the chats was seen by many as a nail in the coffin of any ambitions he harboured of making a comeback in 2017 presidential elections.
“I think it is now my duty to break this silence. If I do this, it is because the sacred principles of our Republic are trampled on with unheard of violence and with an unprecedented absence of qualms,” Sarkozy wrote in French daily Le Figaro.
In an impassioned letter “to the French”, he compared having his phones tapped to dictatorial methods, slammed the leaks as politically motivated, rejected several corruption cases against him and denied any desire to return to politics.
“Who handed over these documents when no lawyer has access to the procedure? The only people who hold (the documents) are judges or policemen… Are they above laws and judicial secrecy?” he asked of the phone tap leaks to daily Le Monde and news website Mediapart.
He also threw doubt on claims by the justice and interior ministers that they did not know about the phone taps. “Who are we kidding?”
– Taps draw Stasi comparison –
Pointing out that his phones were tapped by judges hoping to find evidence, he said: “This is not an extract of the marvellous film ‘The Lives of Others’ on East Germany and the activities of the Stasi (feared state security). It’s not the actions of a dictator against his opponents. This is France,” he said.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault immediately slammed the comments, denouncing Sarkozy’s attack on judges and police as a “serious moral mistake” and describing as “intolerable” the comparison with East Germany.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said she had “no intention of accepting the insults”.
Judges started tapping Sarkozy’s phones last year after opening a formal investigation into allegations he accepted up to 50 million euros ($70 million) in cash from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.
They unwittingly stumbled upon the conversations leaked to the media that allegedly suggested Sarkozy got a friendly judge to try to influence the outcome of legal deliberations in one of France’s highest courts in a completely separate case.
These proceedings at the Cour de Cassation centred on the seizure of Sarkozy’s diaries by judges probing the alleged illegal financing of his UMP party by France’s richest woman Liliane Bettencourt.
Judges suspect the elderly heiress was taken advantage of when she was too frail to know what she was doing, and although formal charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October, 10 other people have been sent for trial.
– Probe found ‘no evidence’ –
In his newspaper column, Sarkozy poured cold water on both cases.
On the Kadhafi probe, he said “after months of investigation… judicial authorities found no transfer, no banks.”
He pointed to the 2011 military intervention in Libya, spearheaded by the French, which eventually led to Kadhafi’s demise.
“During this period, if Mr. Kadhafi had had any form of document to use against me, why did he not do so, when I was the head of the coalition against him?” he asked.
His staunch defence comes on the same day as his lawyer Thierry Herzog, who is also implicated in the leaked phone taps, also fought back against the scandal.
He said the “truncated” excerpts provided no evidence of wrongdoing, adding he would file a legal complaint over the leaks, which, he suggested, could have been the work of current President Francois Hollande.
In his column, Sarkozy defended Herzog, saying he was friendly with the judge implicated in the phone taps and had merely asked for his advice.
He also said he had “no desire today to get involved in our country’s political scene.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who stands to benefit politically from the troubles befalling Sarkozy and his centre-right UMP in local elections on Sunday, called the former President’s indignation “perfectly artificial and unwelcome.”