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France: Sarkozy denies wrongdoing in campaign funding trial

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy
Sylvie Corbet, Associated Press

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appeared in court today, denying wrongdoing and showing anger at accusations during a trial over the allegedly illegal financing of his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

Mr Sarkozy, 66, is facing allegations that he spent almost twice the maximum legal amount of €22.5 million (£19.3m) on the presidential race he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande.

Mr Sarkozy made his first appearance today at the trial which started last month.

The Paris court is seeking to determine whether he was aware of the system of false invoices that was meant to cover up the overspending.

“You have in front of you someone whose life has been dedicated to politics for 40 years,” he told the court, describing how he took part in over 40 rallies, in addition to newspaper interviews and television shows between mid-February and May 2012.

Mr Sarkozy said he had the political leadership of the campaign, but was not involved in organisation and logistical details, stressing that as the incumbent president he had other priorities.

He said he “never” gave any direct instruction to service providers in charge of the organisation of his rallies, because he had a team to do that.

Mr Sarkozy also strongly denied that his 2012 re-election bid had been organised on a much broader scale than his successful 2007 campaign – whose financing has not been put into question.

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

The comments came in response to an investigative magistrate’s conclusions that Mr Sarkozy and his team decided to hold “spectacular and expensive rallies” in 2012. The campaign’s total cost allegedly reached at least €42.8 million (£38.8m).

The investigation did not establish whether Mr Sarkozy allegedly took an active part in the process or ordered fraudulent actions himself.

In addition to the former president, 12 other people and the company in charge of organising the campaign rallies face charges that include forgery, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing.

Following several scandals, French law since 1990 has strictly limited political campaign spending.

The proceedings got under way less than three months after Mr Sarkozy was convicted of corruption and influence-peddling in another case. He has appealed against that verdict.

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

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