PARIS (Reuters) - Police raided the home and offices of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday as part of a judicial inquiry into financial relations between his political camp and the richest woman in France, L‘Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
It was Sarkozy’s first legal tangle since he was unseated in a May 6 election after five years in office, during which he enjoyed presidential immunity from legal pursuit. That cover expired in mid-June.
Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said the raids a day after his client had left for Canada on holiday would show nothing and that he had already supplied information to investigators that debunked suspicions of secret meetings with Bettencourt.
“These raids ... will as expected prove futile,” Herzog said in a statement.
The Bettencourt probe centers on financial relations between Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party and the billionaire heiress of the L‘Oreal cosmetics empire. In one strand, investigators are trying to establish whether Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign in particular was funded illicitly.
Herzog said magistrates looking into whether Sarkozy had received campaign funds from the now mentally fragile Bettencourt had been supplied with diary details of all Sarkozy appointments in 2007.
Those details, he said, “prove that the purported ‘secret meetings’ with Madame Liliane Bettencourt were impossible”.
Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who ruled France from 1995 to 2007, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence in December after a court found him guilty of misusing public funds for political purposes when he was mayor of Paris.
Francois Hollande, who unseated Sarkozy in May, has vowed to change the rules in France under his tenure so that the law no longer treats presidents differently from other civilians regarding matters that predate their time in office.
The 57-year-old Sarkozy, who has adopted a low profile since his defeat, faces a number of legal tangles now that he is no longer head of state.
Days after his constitutionally guaranteed immunity expired in mid-June, a lawyer announced a formal legal complaint in another affair with a political funding link in which he wants Sarkozy to answer questions.
That complaint came from a lawyer acting for victims of a 2002 bombing in Karachi that investigators believe may be linked to a long-running corruption and illegal party-financing case.
In the so-called “Karachi Affair”, investigators are trying to unravel dealings by middlemen and possible kickbacks linked to France’s sale of Agosta class submarines to Pakistan in the 1990s.
That contract was negotiated and signed while Sarkozy was a minister and spokesman for a politician who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1995, Edouard Balladur.
Reporting By Brian Love and Chine Labbe, editing by Michael Roddy