1 July 2014 Last updated at 08:08

France's Nicolas Sarkozy detained for questioning

Key Points

  • French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy held for questioning over alleged influence peddling
  • Police probing claims that information on separate investigation was being passed to Mr Sarkozy's lawyer
  • Decision to hold him is an unprecedented step against a former president
  • Development seen as a blow to Mr Sarkozy's attempts to challenge for the presidency in 2017
  • Mr Sarkozy can be held for up to 24 hours
  • All times GMT

    Welcome to our live coverage of the dramatic developments surrounding former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The man widely tipped as the centre-right's candidate for the next election, in 2017, has been detained near Paris for questioning over suspected influence-peddling. Stay with us for news updates, correspondent analysis and readers' comments.


    Here is Mr Sarkozy in a photo from 9 March 2012, when he was still president, campaigning for re-election in the southern city of Nice.

    Nicolas Sarkozy in Nice, southern France, 9 March 2012
    07:26: Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris

    The investigators who are holding Mr Sarkozy believe they can build a case to show he had a judge working on his behalf in the highest court in France, the Cour de Cassation. It's alleged that in advance of an important decision earlier this year - over whether Mr Sarkozy's work diaries should be kept in the hands of the justice system - this judge not only kept Mr Sarkozy informed of proceedings, but may even have tried to influence other judges.

    07:30: Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris

    Mr Sarkozy says the allegations against him are politically motivated. What's clear is they represent another obstacle in the way of his planned return to frontline politics.


    French judge Gilbert Azibert, seen here in July 2008, has also been called in for questioning.

    French magistrate Gilbert Azibert in his office in Paris, 24 July 2008

    French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told iTele that Mr Sarkozy was "subject to justice just like everyone else".

    "Justice authorities are investigating and have to go all the way."


    This current case is one of six legal investigations involving Mr Sarkozy. They include a new one activated this year into separate irregularities in his unsuccessful 2012 election campaign.


    The former leader is due to be questioned for four hours, France's Le Figaro daily reports. He arrived himself this morning at the anti-corruption office of the judicial police, which is in Nanterre, near Paris. Mr Sarkozy's interrogation comes soon after his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, was placed in police custody, the paper notes.


    Mr Sarkozy was formally placed in custody this morning for procedural reasons, Le Figaro explains. However, it points out, this is an unprecedented step.


    Among the other investigations that he is subject to, Mr Sarkozy is also the focus of an inquiry launched in February. That is investigating whether he sought to use his influence to obtain information about a separate inquiry, into allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded his 2007 election campaign.


    Aside from Mr Sarkozy, Mr Azibert and fellow magistrate Patrick Sassoust are also being held for questioning. Investigators suspect Mr Sarkozy attempted to get Mr Azibert a promotion to Monaco in exchange for information.


    Expectation that Mr Sarkozy will return as a presidential candidate in 2017 has been fuelled by the inability of his UMP party to find a convincing new leader since his defeat. The opposition party's relatively poor showing at the European elections in May only added to its malaise.


    Mr Sarkozy arrived at the anti-corruption office of the French police in Nanterre, near Paris, in this car, early on Tuesday morning.

    Car containing Nicolas Sarkozy

    Social media in France is dominated by football news this morning, not the interrogation of Nicolas Sarkozy, after France's victory over Nigeria propelled it into the World Cup quarter-finals. The team's progress has been helping the country to forget its economic and political scandals, the BBC's Hugh Schofield reported earlier. Here is a photo of the current President, Francois Hollande, celebrating last night at the Elysee Palace.

    Francois Hollande celebrating at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 30 June

    Al Jazeera's report on Mr Sarkozy's detention contains details of how investigators discovered he had a phone registered under an assumed name. It had conversations with his lawyer Mr Herzog recorded on it, which triggered the probe into his affairs, the broadcaster says.


    The Daily Telegraph also mentions details of allegations that Mr Sarkozy rigged a settlement procedure, while still president, which resulted in disgraced businessman Bernard Tapie receiving 400m euros (£320; $547m) from the state.


    A tweet of support for Mr Sarkozy from a French supporter: "The more you stop him coming back, the more I will support him."


    The Financial Times carries a line about how Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer are alleged to have been heard attempting to seek help from a judge in another case in return for favours, during the period when the former president's phone was tapped. Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer say they were merely seeking advice and deny any offer of favours. Mr Sarkozy has denied wrongdoing in all the investigations he is currently subject to.

    Michael, Ostend, Belgium

    emails: This tells us that nobody is above the law in France. Other countries in the world must learn from this.


    Other French-language bloggers are more cruel about Mr Sarkozy, a hugely divisive figure while he was in office. "You can call your lawyer, Mr Sarkozy," tweets one. "He's in the cell next door."


    To recap, investigators are seeking to establish if Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer attempted to pervert the course of justice. They suspect the former president sought to obtain inside information from a magistrate about the progress of another inquiry, in exchange for support in securing a post in Monaco. Investigators are also looking into an allegation that Mr Sarkozy was illegally tipped off that his mobile phone had been tapped by police looking into the alleged financing of his 2007 election campaign by the late Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi.


    Here is the outside of the anti-corruption office of the French judicial police where Mr Sarkozy and others are in detention this morning.

    The outside of the anti-corruption office of the French judicial police near Paris, 30 June

    Mr Sarkozy has also been implicated in a number of other scandals which are currently under investigation. These include allegations he helped organise kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal before becoming president. He has also been linked to a scandal over the funding of his campaign for re-election in 2012. The leader of his UMP party resigned last month after it emerged 10m euros (£8m;$13.6m) spent in support of Mr Sarkozy had been passed off as party expenses. A criminal investigation into that case was opened last week. Mr Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing in all these alleged cases.


    Sebastien Huyghe, an MP from Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, has questioned the timing of this latest investigation. "The coincidence is striking," he was quoted as telling French digital channel BFMTV by Le Parisien newspaper. "Every time there's talk of a return [to active politics] by Nicolas Sarkozy, a legal action happens. Day after day they try to dent the image of Nicolas Sarkozy."


    While the interrogation of Mr Sarkozy is expected to last four hours, he could technically be questioned for 24, which is the usual length of time set aside for the type of questioning he faces. Investigators could also apply for an extension and keep him for up to 48 hours. He arrived for questioning shortly before 6:00 GMT.


    The media assembling outside the judicial police offices in Nanterre could be in for a long wait.

    Media outside the judicial police offices in Nanterre, near Paris, 1 July

    Mr Sarkozy has chosen not to be represented by a lawyer for now, his own lawyer Thierry Herzog having been placed in custody on Monday, French digital channel iTele is quoted as saying by Le Parisien.


    Christian Estrosi, the mayor of the southern city of Nice and a close ally of Mr Sarkozy, has used Twitter to voice his support. "Never has any former president been the victim of such treatment, such an outburst of hatred," Mr Estrosi tweeted.

    Gerard Ludovic, France

    emails: It proves we have an independent justice. It can improve the image of our country and not the contrary.


    Key to the interrogation today is the suspicion that Mr Sarkozy sought to obtain information from Judge Azibert about the fate of his work diaries, which had been seized as part of an investigation into donations towards his successful 2007 election campaign. That investigation, into allegations he had exploited the mental frailty of France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, to fund his campaign, was dropped in October. Judges decided there was no proof Mr Sarkozy had personally pressured the L'Oreal heiress into giving money.


    While Mr Sarkozy turned up himself for his questioning, Judge Azibert was brought to Nanterre from his home 500km (310 miles) away in the south-western city of Bordeaux by police, the French daily Liberation writes.


    The New York Times writes that Mr Sarkozy appears to be the first former French president to have had his private conversations monitored by investigators.


    Thierry Herzog, Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, is among those taken into custody by anti-corruption police.

    Thierry Herzog
    Remi Campagne, Paris

    emails: Sarkozy is France's Berlusconi and will try to lengthen all procedures in order to keep his head.

    Steve, Thonon-Les-Bains, France

    emails: This is all highly convenient for the left-wing and a bit too coincidental. There is not a day that passes without some allegation or other being seen in the newspapers against the former president as he rises in popularity. At the same time, we can all see how terribly unpopular the current president is through reports in the media. The BBC are doing a good job of keeping a balanced perspective.


    There are several investigations looking at Nicolas Sarkozy's recent activities, many revolving around the financing of his successful 2007 election campaign. This explainer runs through what allegations have been made about the former French president, and details those associates of his who have also come under scrutiny by French anti-corruption police.


    A narrative is emerging among centre-right allies of Mr Sarkozy that he is being persecuted for political reasons. But the Socialist speaker of the lower house of France's parliament, Claude Bartolone, has warned against seeking to ascribe political motives to the justice system. "Justice is doing its work and it is in all of our interests to let it do its work," he is quoted as saying by French daily Liberation. "The fact that justice can show that nobody is above the law will strengthen the link between justice, democracy and public opinion."


    France's radical left, the Parti de Gauche, has mocked Mr Sarkozy on Twitter by throwing back a remark he made to a member of the public who refused to shake his hand in February 2008, when he was president. The image posted by Parti de Gauche on Twitter reads: "'Beat it, loser' - And he was the one to say it!"

    Parti de Gauche image

    A French court ruled in March that investigators could retain Mr Sarkozy's work diaries, rejecting a challenge he made to their seizure. While the Bettencourt investigation was dropped, there was speculation at the time that the diaries could be used in other investigations targeting Mr Sarkozy.


    If you are just joining us, welcome to our live coverage of the questioning of Nicolas Sarkozy on suspicion of peddling influence. The fact that a former French president has been placed in custody - an unprecedented move - has outraged his allies, even if it is a formality to allow for a formal interrogation at the judicial police offices outside Paris. In custody along with him are his lawyer and two magistrates. Technically the questioning could continue for 24 hours without an extension, though French media predict four hours for Mr Sarkozy.


    A hash tag which mocks Mr Sarkozy - "#DepuisTEsEnGAVCommeSarkozy" ("Now you're in custody like Sarkozy") - is trending on French Twitter. One of the milder tweets translates as "Your father caught you smoking - now you're in custody like Sarkozy" and another "You said Algeria would win the World Cup - now you're in custody like Sarkozy". Reflecting France's large Muslim community, another tweeter jokes "You broke your [Ramadan] fast - now you're in custody like Sarkozy".


    Nicolas Sarkozy assumed a false identity, "Paul Bismuth", to use a mobile phone for calls to his lawyer Thierry Herzog, French media report. It appears that Mr Herzog borrowed the name of an old schoolmate for the purpose and the real Mr Bismuth is now considering making a complaint, Le Figaro says.


    Political friends of Mr Sarkozy have either expressed indignation at his treatment or refused to comment, as a France TV Info video round-up (in French) shows. According to UMP politician Nadine Morano, the way the justice system has handled the affair is "intolerable".


    Three men at the heart of the current investigation - from left, Nicolas Sarkozy's lawyer Thierry Herzog, the former French president himself and judge Gilbert Azibert.

    From left: lawyer Thierry Herzog, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and French judge Gilbert Azibert

    It is now about six hours since Mr Sarkozy arrived at the judicial police offices in Nanterre, near Paris, for questioning and there is no indication yet for the media outside of when it will end.

    Media outside the judicial police offices in Nanterre, near Paris, 1 July

    To recap, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into custody and is being questioned about whether he sought inside information from a judge concerning an investigation into campaign funding. His lawyer and two magistrates are also being held, and it is the first time a former French president has been held in custody - although Mr Sarkozy has previously been questioned by police, regarding another case.


    Mr Sarkozy can be held by anti-corruption police for 24 hours before an extension must be granted, and arrived to be interviewed at Nanterre, near Paris, early on Tuesday morning. Gilbert Azibert was called in for questioning on Monday along with another magistrate, Patrick Sassoust, and Mr Sarkozy's lawyer Thierry Herzog.


    This concludes our live page coverage of Nicolas Sarkozy's unprecedented detention by French police. You can read more details and keep updated with the story as it develops by reading our further coverage here.


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