| PARIS, March 5
PARIS, March 5 Recordings made in secret by
Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign adviser posted on Wednesday have
thrown the former French president's UMP party into disarray,
weeks before local elections in which it hoped to claw back
terrain from the ruling Socialists.
In the recordings posted on the right-leaning Atlantico web
site, Sarkozy can be heard discussing electoral strategy, a
cabinet reshuffle and his public image in the run-up to France's
2012 presidential election, which he lost.
While the excerpts are more intriguing than incriminating,
analysts said more revelations from what are apparently hours of
recordings could hurt his chances of staging a political
comeback in time for presidential elections in 2017.
The lawyer for campaign manager Patrick Buisson confirmed
the authenticity of the recordings to Reuters but denied
allegations his client leaked them, and said they were stolen.
A former editor of a far-right magazine who helped engineer
a right-ward shift to Sarkozy's campaign, Buisson made the tapes
as a matter of historical record and because he could not take
written notes, said his lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel.
Members of Sarkozy's inner circle expressed shock and
disgust over the recordings.
"The feeling today is that confidence has been betrayed - it
really is a betrayal - and also that this is a sort of
violation," former Sarkozy speechwriter Henri Guaino, whose name
is mentioned in the recordings, told France Inter radio.
"It's very hard to accept."
Guaino said the president, who has not commented publicly,
felt "angry and betrayed".
Written excerpts were published by the Canard Enchaine
satirical weekly on Wednesday but the existence of the
recordings have been rumoured as far back as mid-February.
"The big danger for Nicolas Sarkozy is Patrick Buisson
himself, because he's got dozens and dozens of hours of
recordings from (Sarkozy's) term," Jean-Sebastien Ferjoua, head
of the Atlantico news web site, told BFMTV.
Political scientist Thomas Guenole told Reuters the scandal
"It's a Watergate in reverse with an adviser recording a
president in secret - recordings that could contain damaging
evidence (for Sarkozy)," he said.
With the UMP still smarting from a 2013 leadership battle,
analysts said suggestions of in-fighting could hurt its chances
to win Socialist towns in local elections later this month and
bolster Marine Le Pen's National Front party.
Opinion polls show that the UMP, presided over by the deeply
unpopular Jean-Francois Cope, has gained little support ahead of
the vote despite the rock-bottom approval ratings of President
Francois Hollande, while the National Front has grown more
"It's an explosion, it's devastating," a source in the party
told Reuters. "The losing machine has been set into motion."
(Additional reporting and writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing
by Sonya Hepinstall)