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Sarkozy appears before judge over corruption claims

CONSERVATIVE French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation today on suspicion of influence peddling.

He appeared before a judge in Paris after 15 hours of questioning on Tuesday by anti-corruption police.

Under the French legal system a suspect placed under formal investigation is examined by a judge who determines whether there is sufficient evidence for charges to be laid.

The step usually, but not always, leads to a trial.

Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog and senior prosecutor Gilbert Azibert were also placed under formal investigation.

The former president is said to have sought insider information from Mr Azibert regarding an investigation into illegal campaign financing, namely taking €50 million (£40m) from late Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi.

The reward for Mr Azibert was to have been a top job in Monaco, although he was never given it.

Suspicions are based partly on taped phone conversations between Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog.

Mr Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing and is backed by fellow conservatives who suggested that the charges were politically based.

However, Prime Minister Manuel Valls retorted: “This situation is serious. The facts are serious, but as head of the government, I’m asking that we remember the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work calmly. 

“No-one is above the law is the second principle and, thirdly, an important reminder, there is the presumption of innocence.”

Mr Valls said that the investigation was being carried out by the new financial crime force independently of any political influence.

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