French police on Tuesday raided the Paris home and offices of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, in connection with a long-running investigation into allegations of illicit campaign funding.
It is the first time that Mr Sarkozy has been directly targeted in the so-called Bettencourt affair, after his defeat in May’s presidential election stripped him of the immunity he enjoyed in office.
For the past two years, magistrates have been investigating claims that Mr Sarkozy’s first electoral campaign may have received illicit cash donations from Liliane Bettencourt, the 89-year heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune and France’s richest woman.
Mr Sarkozy has always denied this, saying in April: “As always ahead of the presidential election, there are a certain number of stink bombs.”
Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said in a statement to AFP on Tuesday that the former president had left on Monday on a family holiday to Canada and was absent when the house he shares with his wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni, was raided.
Mr Sarkozy’s offices were also searched by police from the financial crimes division.
Mr Herzog had attempted to head off the raids two weeks ago by sending certified extracts from Mr Sarkozy’s 2007 diary to the Bordeaux investigating magistrate. He told AFP: “These searches …will be shown to have been futile.”
The documents showed “the impossibility of a putative secret rendezvous between Ms Bettencourt”, he added, noting that Mr Sarkozy had met André Bettencourt, her late husband, once on February 24 2007.
Mr Sarkozy is a former mayor of the plush Neuilly suburb in which Ms Bettencourt still lives.
The multi-pronged probe also involves Eric Woerth, a former budget minister and party treasurer to Mr Sarkozy’s UMP centre-right party at the time. He is under investigation for allegedly using his influence to secure a national service honour for Patrice de Maistre, Ms Bettencourt’s former wealth manager.
Mr Woerth denies any wrongdoing. Mr de Maistre is under investigation over allegations including abuse of confidence, abuse of funds and swindling – all of which he denies.
The Bettencourt affair first exploded in 2010 after the leak of illicitly recorded tapes of the mentally frail heiress by her former butler. The tapes raised questions about potential conflicts of interest in Mr Sarkozy’s government as well as funding for the 2007 election campaign.
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