French prosecutors open probe to influence former President Sarkozy

French prosecutors said on Friday that they had opened an investigation into alleged influence against former President Nicolas Sarkozy, adding a new legal grief for a former leader who is already stuck in legal trouble.

The probe, which was opened by France’s financial prosecutor for PNF, concerns advisory activities carried out by Sarkozy in Russia, PNF told AFP and confirmed news published by the news site Mediapart.

Mediapart said that the probe focused on a payment from the Russian insurance company Reso-Garantia of 3 million euros (3.6 million) in 2019 while Sarkozy worked as an adviser, long after leaving the office.

The probe is just the latest legal headache for Sarkozy, who still remains popular with the right in France despite having only held the presidency for a period.

A court will rule on March 1 in a separate corruption trial in which Sarkozy faces up to four years in prison.

He remains accused of receiving millions of euros in funding from Libyan dictator Moamer Gadhafi and is also accused of fraudulent overuse of his failed 2012 re-election.

Promised to clear his name

The right wing, who led France from 2007 to 2012, had insisted in a hearing in his transplant process that he “never committed the slightest act of corruption” and promised to go “all the way” to clear his name.

The French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine also reported on Wednesday that his ex-wife Cecilia was paid as a parliamentary assistant in 2002, but doubted whether she had worked to justify her salary.

His long-standing legal grievances helped lower his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but Sarkozy has surfaced on a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018 and squeezing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at public appearances.

Rows of fans lined up last summer to get him to sign his latest memoir “The Time of Storms”, which topped the bestseller list for several weeks.