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Sarkozy breaks silence: 'The truth will triumph'

Dan MacGuill · 25 Mar 2013, 15:07

Published: 25 Mar 2013 15:07 GMT+01:00

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Sarkozy took to his Facebook account to thank his supporters "from the bottom of my heart", and vowed to "dedicate all my energy to proving my integrity and honesty." He also denounced the accusations against him as "unfair and unfounded."

It is the first time the former French president has spoken publicly since being charged on Thursday night with taking advantage of L'Oreal heiress and multi-billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, in connection with an ongoing political funding scandal.

Sarkozy had a message for his "supporters and opponents alike", claiming that "at no time in my public life have I ever betrayed the duties of my position."

Weighing in on days of controversial allegation and counter-allegation between his supporters and opponents, Sarkozy also said he had not claimed any special treatment, and wanted only "the right to an unbiased, peaceful judicial procedure", adding that "I have faith in the legal institutions."

Sarkozy's statement  comes after a poll on Sunday revealed that two thirds of French people believe the charges brought against him will not prevent a much-vaunted return to French politics.

The survey, conducted after the charges were brought against him, and published in the Parisien, also found that Sarkozy was the preferred UMP presidential candidate for 2017.

In a face-off with several big names from the French right, Sarkozy was top of the list, trouncing the centre-right party's current leader Jean-François Copé by 25 percentage points (31 percent to 5 percent.)

Sarkozy was unexpectedly summoned on Thursday to the Bordeaux offices of Jean-Michel Gentil, the judge in charge of the case, for face-to-face encounters with at least four former members of Bettencourt's staff.

The surprise confrontation came over claims he had accepted envelopes stuffed with cash from the world's richest woman to fund his 2007 election campaign.

Gentil was seeking to establish how many times Sarkozy had visited Bettencourt during his successful campaign.

Sarkozy, 58, has always maintained that he visited Bettencourt's residence only once during the campaign, to meet her late husband. Members of the multi-billionaire's staff have, however, contradicted his version of events.

Sarkozy's lawyer Thierry Herzog lambasted the decision to pursue his client as "legally incoherent and unfair". He said he would immediately initiate proceedings to have the charges dropped.

There has been no shortage of reaction from every part of the political spectrum, including some pointed allegations against the Socialist government of current President François Hollande.

Story continues below…

Henri Guaino, former Sarkozy advisor and speechwriter, on Friday led the charge against the court's decision, telling Europe 1 radio "Judge Gentil has dishonoured French justice." Guaino also attacked the ruling as "unworthy" and "irresponsible."

Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, on Friday told Europe 1 that his client "has suffered scandalous treatment" at the hands of the court in Bordeaux.

Amid the angry backlash from Sarkozy allies in the opposition UMP party, there have been counter-charges from Socialist politicians, among them Socialist Party president Harlem Désir who on Friday told Canal Plus television he was “warning the Right not to put any pressure on the courts.”

“It is unacceptable to impugn the probity and independence of the judges,” said Désir.

Socialist Housing Minister Cécile Duflot on Friday criticized "all the screaming and shouting" of Sarkozy's supporters. Duflot defended the integrity of the process, telling BFMTV: "This investigation signifes nothing more than the justice system doing its job freely."

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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