France's Sarkozy wins battle to pull secret recordings

PARIS Fri Mar 14, 2014 8:47am EDT

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures as he delivers a speech during the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou, a new centre for care and research of Alzheimer disease, in Nice March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures as he delivers a speech during the inauguration of the Institut Claude Pompidou, a new centre for care and research of Alzheimer disease, in Nice March 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

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PARIS (Reuters) - A French court on Friday ordered a news website to withdraw recordings an adviser secretly took of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy during his 2012 election campaign.

In an emergency ruling sought by Sarkozy, who is expected by many to enter the next presidential contest in 2017, the Paris court also ordered the adviser, Patrick Buisson, to make a damages downpayment of 10,000 euros ($13,900)to the conservative leader and wife Carla Bruni.

Revelations in early March that Buisson, once part of Sarkozy's inner circle, had recorded hours of talks with the conservative leader and his entourage, caused uproar in the opposition UMP party ahead of late March local elections.

The Paris court ordered right-wing news website Atlantico.fr to pull postings of the recordings rapidly or face daily fines.

Sarkozy lawyer Thierry Herzog said he was "satisfied" with the ruling and Richard Malka, a lawyer for Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni, said: "This decision shows that the end does not justify the means. People cannot live under the sword of Damocles with recordings taken all the time that then end up broadcast on the Internet".

In the published excerpts Atlantico posted, Sarkozy is heard discussing his electoral strategy and a 2011 cabinet reshuffle, while singer wife Carla Bruni is recorded joking about how she had to put her modeling career on ice while she was France's first lady.

"I thought I was marrying a guy with a salary ... I had big contracts and now nothing," she is heard saying, adding that if Sarkozy went on to lose the election she at least could re-activate her career and start selling anti-wrinkle cream.

French media have said dozens of hours of further material could emerge from recordings that date back to 2011, raising the specter of more damaging revelations in future.

The potential for the affair to hurt Sarkozy grew after Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, said Buisson had a secret meeting with her father Jean-Marie, then FN leader, during the 2007 presidential vote.

Separate revelations this month thickened the plot when it emerged that Sarkozy's phone was tapped by magistrates who are investigating allegations, denied by the ex-president, that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded his 2007 election campaign.

($1 = 0.7180 Euros)

(Reporting by China Labbe and Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus)

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