It seemed to be one more bad day for the embattled Nicolas Sarkozy, when French daily Le Parisien published on Tuesday a story claiming Paris prosecutors had opened yet another criminal investigation into the former head of state.
This time, Le Parisien claimed, prosecutors were looking into whether his successful 2007 presidential campaign falsely billed some of it expenses to Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party, but by Tuesday morning Paris prosecutors had sent out a statement denying they'd started any new investigation.
By the afternoon Le Parisien posted a correction saying there indeed was no new probe and that the error was due to a "regrettable mix-up."
"Conscious of the consequences of the spreading of this false information, we apologize to our readers and the people targeted by this erroneous article," Le Parisien wrote.
The possibility of cooked books raises numerous red flags, including questions over whether his campaign could have exceeded spending limits.
Le Parisien says prosecutors launched the probe earlier this month and have already carried out at least one search in their hunt for evidence. It’s unclear what sort of evidence they’ve collected thus far or how long the investigation could go on.
According to the paper, it appears at least one event planning company, which was unnamed in the story, involved in the 2007 election issued fake bills to the UMP on Sarkozy’s behalf.
This alleged investigation comes just weeks after Sarkozy was charged with corruption and influence peddling on accusations he offered to help a high-placed magistrate land a cushy court job in Monaco in exchange for keeping Sarkozy abreast of another probed targeting him.
The alleged new probe bears close similarity to a scandal, known as the Bygmalion affair, that broke earlier this summer about the UMP allegedly being falsely billed for some €11 million in Sarkozy’s expenses during his failed 2012 campaign. Sarkozy has denied all knowledge of the phoney bills, but the scandal has already cost Jean-François Copé his job as party leader.
The Bygmalion affair is just one of a string of ongoing probes involving Sarkozy.
- He’s still under investigation on allegations he accept millions of euros in campaign donations illegally from deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2007.
- The former UMP-party leader also remains the target of a probe regarding the alleged quid pro quo with the magistrate, which investigators discovered via a wiretap of a phone Sarkozy had purchased under an alias.
- Then there’s the questions over management of contracts for opinion polling carried out during Sarkozy's 2007-12 term as president. It’s been alleged the contracts were given to political cronies without any tender process.
- Finally, a criminal investigation is ongoing over a controversial €400-million ($557-million) payout by the French state to tycoon Bernard Tapie in 2008. Judges are looking at whether Tapie received favourable treatment as a reward for supporting Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election.
For his part Sarkozy says the charges are false aimed at ruining his political career: "I have never committed any act contrary to the values of the republic or the rule of law," Sarkozy said in TV interview earlier this month."
As for the latest probe into his 2007 campaign prosecutors in Paris issued a statement on Tuesday claiming no new investigation had been launched.
“Contrary to what the daily newspaper Le Parisien has indicated...Paris prosecutors have not opened any preliminary criminal investigation concerning the 2007 presidential campaign of Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy," a statement from the office said.
The statement goes on to remind the public that prosecutors are already investigating Sarkozy.