Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to sink deeper into trouble Wednesday after fresh evidence emerged of an alleged attempt to influence judges involved in one of a string of corruption cases the former French president is embroiled in.
Investigative news website Mediapart published what it said were extracts from tapped phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, who at one point refers to two top judges as "bastards".
If genuine, they would appear to confirm previous reports that Sarkozy benefited from insider information from a friendly judge about the progress of a case related to an election-financing scandal.
They also reveal that Sarkozy appeared to have a well-placed mole in a senior position feeding him information about a separate probe into alleged financing of his 2007 election campaign by former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Mediapart's report was described as "mind-boggling" by a spokesman for the ruling Socialist Party. But Sarkozy's allies slammed what they described as blatant violation of the principles of judicial secrecy and the presumption of innocence.
The report comes four days ahead of nationwide municipal elections in which both Sarkozy's UMP party and the Socialists are tipped to suffer heavy losses.
Mediapart said it got hold of the summaries of seven phone conversations tapped by judges, which apart from confirming revelations Sarkozy allegedly perverted the course of justice also suggest he received a tip-off from a mole that judges were planning to raid his offices in connection with the Libya allegations.
His lawyer Thierry Herzog is allegedly heard describing judges as "bastards" and, at one point, voices certainty that a key court decision will go their way, "unless justice prevails".
Maze of corruption cases
Judges started tapping Sarkozy's phones last year after opening a formal investigation into allegations that he accepted up to €50 million ($70 million) in cash from Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.
They unwittingly stumbled upon a conversation between Sarkozy and Herzog that prompted them to open another, completely separate probe over suspicions he tried to get inside information about top secret proceedings before one of France's highest courts.
These proceedings at the Cour de Cassation centered 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.
Sarkozy wanted the Cour de Cassation to rule that the seizure of the potentially explosive diaries was illegal, but last week, the court threw out his plea.
According to Mediapart, though, Sarkozy and his lawyer were confident this would not happen and that he would get his diaries back, thanks to information from a friendly judge called Gilbert Azibert.
According to the alleged summary of the phone conversations, Herzog repeatedly says that he talked to "Gilbert" who was keeping them regularly informed of the internal deliberations at court.
Then at the beginning of February, Mediapart reports, Sarkozy expressed concern that judges may be preparing to search his offices.
The former president allegedly asks Herzog to "get in contact with our friends so that they are vigilant".
Herzog responds: "I will... call my correspondent this morning... because they have to go through him", implying that they have a high-placed mole who could potentially stop the search.