Ex-French President Sarkozy denies wrongdoing in campaign finance lawsuit

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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared in court on Tuesday, denying wrongdoing and expressing anger over allegations during a trial over the alleged illegal financing of his failed 2012 reelection bid.

Sarkozy, 66, is facing charges that he spent nearly twice the maximum legal amount of 22.5 million euros ($27.5 million) on the presidential race he lost to socialist Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy first appeared on Tuesday at the trial that began last month. The Paris court wants to determine whether it was aware of the system of false invoices that was intended to cover up the overspending.

“You have before you someone whose life has been devoted to politics for 40 years,” he told the court, describing his participation in more than 40 demonstrations, in addition to newspaper interviews and television shows between mid-February and May 2012.

In an angry voice, Sarkozy said he was in charge of the campaign’s political leadership but was not involved in the organization and logistical details, stressing that as a sitting president he had other priorities.

He said he “never” gave direct instructions to service providers responsible for organizing his rallies because he had a team to do so.

Sarkozy also strenuously denied that his 2012 reelection bid was staged on a much wider scale than his successful 2007 campaign — the funding of which has not been questioned.

“I would like someone to explain to me how my campaign was bigger in 2012 than it was in 2007? That is not true. And if anyone knows, it’s me!” he said.

The comments came in response to an investigating magistrate’s conclusion that Sarkozy and his team decided to hold “spectacular and expensive meetings” in 2012. The total cost of the campaign is said to be at least 42.8 million euros ($52 million).

The investigation did not reveal whether Sarkozy allegedly actively participated in the trial or ordered fraudulent acts himself.

In addition to the former president, 12 other people and the company responsible for organizing the campaign rallies are charged with forgery, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign finance.

Since 1990, after several scandals, French law has strictly limited spending on political campaigns.

Conviction for corruption, influence-peddlingleur

The proceedings began less than three months after Sarkozy was convicted of corruption and influence of influence in another case. He has appealed against that verdict.

>> Sarkozy convicted: what does it mean for politics and justice in France?

Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017 but still has a lot of influence behind the scenes, especially within the Republican party ahead of next year’s presidential election. French media have reported that he is in regular contact with centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who would advise Sarkozy.

The trial is expected to last until June 22, with the verdict expected to be delivered at a later date.

(AP)