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Sarkozy in late bid to halt corruption charges

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Sarkozy in late bid to halt corruption charges
Sarkozy greets adoring supporters at a UMP meeting earlier this year. But will he ever be able to make a comeback to politics? Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP
08:34 CEST+02:00
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy lauched a last-ditch bid on Monday to have corruption charges against him dropped, which could pave the way for a return to politics. He is accused of accepting campaign money from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy  launched a new bid on Monday to have corruption charges linked to the financing of his 2007 election campaign dismissed on procedural grounds.

Sarkozy and former budget minister Eric Woerth have both appealed to the Court of Cassation, France's highest court for civil and criminal matters, to overturn a September 24 ruling by a lower court that key medical evidence in the case was admissible.

The appeal does not necessarily put the broader case on hold. Following the failure of the earlier appeal, the examining magistrates in charge of the case are entitled to send the former president for trial at any time, although they can also opt to wait and see what the Court of Cassation decides.

Sarkozy was charged in March with accepting cash from France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, for his 2007 campaign, when she was allegedly too frail to know what she was doing.

The charges against him are founded on a medical report which states that Bettencourt, now 90, had suffered from dementia since at least 2006.

Sarkozy's lawyers had challenged the validity of the medical evidence on a procedural point, arguing that the legal-medical expert who wrote the report was a close friend of one of the examining magistrates in charge of the case, and therefore not neutral.

That argument was rejected and will only be reexamined if the Court of Cassation agrees to hear Sarkozy and Woerth's appeal. If it does, legal experts say it will be at least six months before any decision is made.

The judges handling the corruption probe will have to decide whether to wait for that ruling or proceed with preparations for a trial in the knowledge that they might have to be abandoned.

A total of 12 people have been charged with various offences in the case but public prosecutors do not believe the evidence against six of them, including Sarkozy, is sufficiently compelling to make a conviction likely.

The prosecutors recommended dropping the charges against the six but their advice was ignored by the magistrates, which has fuelled accusations they are pursuing a politically motivated case against the former president.

If convicted, Sarkozy faces up to three years in jail, a fine of €375,000 ($480,000), and a five-year ban from public office which would destroy any hope he entertains of making a political comeback.

Separately, Sarkozy is also being investigated over allegations that he accepted up to 50 million euros ($65 million) cash from former Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi for the 2007 campaign.

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