Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged as part of an investigation into possible witness tampering, adding to his long list of legal woes, including over illegal campaign financing.
According to AFP, following 30 hours of questioning over nearly four days, investigating magistrates decided they had grounds to charge Sarkozy with benefiting from witness tampering and conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
The case against Sarkozy, still an influential figure in French conservative politics, is linked to allegations that he took money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to fund one of his election campaigns, for which he is to stand trial in 2025.
A key witness in that case, Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, had claimed he delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($5.3 million at current rates) in cash in 2006 and 2007.
But in 2020 Takieddine suddenly retracted his incriminating statement, raising suspicions that Sarkozy may have put pressure on the witness to change his mind.
The 68-year-old has already been convicted twice for corruption and influence peddling in separate cases involving attempts to influence a judge and campaign financing.
Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, has appealed against both judgements.
On Friday, his lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP that their client would “defend his honour” in the latest case, too.
At least nine other people are under suspicion of participating in the alleged conspiracy, which investigators said may have involved payment to Takieddine.
Some of the suspects are also believed to have attempted to bribe a Lebanese judge to obtain the release of Kadhafi’s son held in Lebanon — in the hope of getting the Libyan leader to help Sarkozy persuade the French judiciary of his innocence.
In a transcript of Sarkozy’s statements during questioning, the former president said there was “no material evidence or any wiretap to incriminate me in this craziness”.
Should the case go to trial, it will be the third looming court date for Sarkozy.
In addition the 2025 Libyan financing trial, which relates to Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, he is scheduled to stand trial next month for alleged violation of campaign financing rules in his 2012 bid for re-election, which he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande.