Nicolas Sarkozy is set to stand criminal trial for running a corrupt campaign to become president of France.
It comes after Paris prosecutors placed the 61-year-old conservative under formal investigation for illegal financing, and recommended he should appear as a defendant in court.
Despite the ongoing enquiry, the leader of the Republic Party was convinced he could still become head of state again next year.
Now, however, Mr Sarkozy is expected to reconsider his options after being indicted for ‘financing an illegal campaign’, which could carry a prison sentence.
Alleged false accounting, fraud and breach of trust are all elements in the so-called Bygmalion Affair.
Bygmalion was the PR firm which handled the notoriously self-promoting Mr Sarkozy’s appearances during his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
It is said to have used a vast system of false accounting to conceal an alleged explosion of funding for his campaign.
It exceeded the legal limit for funds of £18.5 million, with Mr Sarkozy’s team spending the equivalent of at least £33 million.
Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog said earlier this year that ‘there was nothing linking President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Bygmalion case.’
However, the investigation kept Mr Sarkozy, who is still allowed to use his ‘president’ title after serving a single term of office in the role between 2007 and 2012, tied up in legal proceedings.
The Paris home Mr Sarkozy shares with his third wife, the model and pop singer Carla Bruni, was raided by fraud squad officers within a week of him standing down four years ago.
This was because French presidents are immune from prosecution while in office, and they can only be indicted once they leave office.
Following the prosecutor’s recommendation that Sarkozy should stand trial, investigating magistrates have one month to make the final decision on whether the case should come to court.
The ruling could come just days before presidential primaries of Mr Sarkozy’s Republicans party – held on November 20 and 27.
Mr Sarkozy’s only other hope of avoiding a trial in the short term is to win the presidential election next Spring.
He is under investigation in a range of other scandals too, including claims that he received £42 million from the late Colonel Gaddafi before he was elected in 2007.
French law bans candidates from receiving cash donations above £6,300, but the massive donation is said to have been laundered through bank accounts in Panama and Switzerland.
A document made public in Paris is said to show that the French leader and the former Libyan dictator made an illegal financial deal that propelled Mr Sarkozy to power.
French warplanes facilitated Gaddafi’s death during the Arab Spring revolt of 2011, and it has been alleged that Mr Sarkozy wanted him gone, along with all the evidence pointing to the donation.
The last French president to be tried as a criminal was Mr Sarkozy’s former mentor, Jacques Chirac.
In 2011, the former president was found guilty of diverting public funds and abusing public confidence, and recieved a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Despite his ongoing electoral ambitions, Mr Sarkozy is an increasingly unpopular figure in France, with opinion polls continually suggesting he should quit politics.
He has lurched increasingly to the right during his period of opposition as he tried to appeal to supporters of the anti-immigrant National Front.
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