Sarkozy Scandal An 'Unflattering Picture' of French Democracy

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under investigation for exploiting the country's richest woman to raise campaign funds. Edwy Plenel, founder of Mediapart, the online news magazine that broke the scandal, tells SPIEGEL that there could be more such cases to come.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under investigation for manipulating a frail billionaire into financing his campaign.
REUTERS

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under investigation for manipulating a frail billionaire into financing his campaign.


SPIEGEL: Last Tuesday, French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac stepped down. On Thursday Sarkozy was put under formal investigation. Both scandals were uncovered through research by Mediapart. Satisfied?

Plenel: I am satisfied, because the seriousness of our work was confirmed, and because the independence of the judiciary and the press prevailed. But both cases painted an unflattering picture of democracy in France, and you can't be satisfied with that.

SPIEGEL: In the case of Sarkozy, the research began with a Dictaphone.

Plenel: Yes, 21 hours of conversation, which were recorded by Madame (Liliane) Bettencourt's butler, indicated that illegal monetary gifts had indeed been given to Sarkozy's party. We received a copy of the recording, which we evaluated, and then we spoke with the billionaire's staff, who reported that Sarkozy had made several thank-you visits to the house.

SPIEGEL: What exactly are the prosecutors' accusations against the former president?

Plenel: We know today from the opinions of experts that by 2007 Madame Bettencourt was no longer in full possession of her mental powers. So the accusation claims that Sarkozy took advantage of her mental weakness in order to get her to partially finance his campaign.

SPIEGEL: Sarkozy has vehemently denied this. Do you believe the case will make it to trial?

Plenel: I think he will be brought before a court. Of course his lawyers will lodge an appeal. But this is not the only scandal that could get Sarkozy into trouble. There's still the Karachi affair over dubious campaign financing in 1995, and then there's the question of whether Sarkozy received campaign contributions from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

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