March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, named a suspect late yesterday by judges probing claims he took advantage of billionaire Liliane Bettencourt’s mental frailty to access her money, rejected charges of any wrongdoing.
“We have nothing to hide,” Sarkozy lawyer Thierry Herzog said today on Europe 1 radio, adding that he would seek to have the investigation thrown out. “A judge can make a mistake. This judge has made a mistake.”
The placing of Sarkozy under formal investigation comes after months of questioning over whether he, his 2007 presidential campaign or his party got gifts from the L’Oreal SA heiress while she wasn’t mentally fit to make decisions, and whether Bettencourt, France’s richest woman, was manipulated into making them.
Sarkozy lost his bid for re-election in May, lifting the immunity that accompanies the post of president in France. He is the second former president in France’s modern era to face criminal inquiries after leaving office. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of corruption during his time as mayor of Paris prior to his term as president, receiving a suspended jail sentence in December 2011.
Sarkozy in November had been named a “material witness” by judges investigating the claims, a position placing him between being called to testify and being made a target of the matter. The announcement yesterday by Bordeaux prosecutors means that Sarkozy has become the focus of the investigation.
Sarkozy’s lawyer told BFM TV yesterday that he will appeal the ruling.
As a formal suspect, Sarkozy gains certain rights, notably access to all elements in the legal case. An appeals judge can now throw out the investigation or affirm it. An affirmation could draw the case out for a long time.
Bettencourt’s former financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre, and Eric Woerth, the treasurer of Sarkozy’s party during the campaign and a former budget minister, have been charged in the case. Both men deny the allegations. De Maistre said in an interview in the Journal du Dimanche on Nov. 11 that he never gave money to either Woerth or Sarkozy.
More than a dozen people have been charged in the probes spawned by the affair, according to Agence France-Presse.
In an interview this month in the conservative magazine Valeurs Actuelles, Sarkozy talked about his post-presidential life, saying it was his “duty” to consider returning to the public arena to help the country facing an economic and social crisis.
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