Sarkozy Return Clouded by Phone-Tap Probe, Funding Reports

French investigative judges tapped former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s mobile telephones as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding for his 2007 presidential campaign, Le Monde reported today.

Paris judges are working on three cases involving the former president, Le Monde said. They’re probing alleged illegal political funding from Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi; the circumstances surrounding money Sarkozy is alleged to have received from L’Oreal SA heiress Liliane Bettencourt; and his role in then-Finance Minister Christine Lagarde’s decision on an arbitration settlement with French businessman Bernard Tapie.

The French daily also said Sarkozy may have gotten access in a fraudulent manner to details of the probes. He and his lawyer may have received information from a judge -- appointed during his term as president -- with access to the judicial authorities’ Intranet service, the daily said.

Sarkozy’s press officer Veronique Wache declined to comment when called by Bloomberg News. The former president’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog called “absurd” the reports about Sarkozy’s alleged access to judicial material about his ongoing cases.

Revelations of wiretapping and serial allegations of misconduct may harm any bid by Sarkozy to return to power after he lost to Francois Hollande in the presidential election of May 2012. Sarkozy has had multiple public appearances since the start of the year, including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that hint at his intention to run for office in 2017.

Campaign Aide

Paris judges began tapping Sarkozy’s phone in April 2013 as part of an investigation into allegations of illegal funding by Qaddafi’s regime in 2006 or 2007, Le Monde reported, without citing anyone. Sarkozy was elected president in May 2007.

The report followed the publication this week in French media of another incident involving Sarkozy’s conversations being listened in on.

Patrick Buisson, a former campaign aide during Sarkozy’s failed re-election bid, taped his conversations with the president and other aides without their knowledge.

Excerpts of these conversations, including one with Sarkozy’s wife, the singer Carla Bruni, have been published in French media. Sarkozy and Bruni filed a complaint yesterday, according to their lawyers.

The will-he-won’t-he speculation about a Sarkozy rerun has gathered pace as Socialist President Hollande’s popularity has sunk to record lows.

Candidacy Considered

While Sarkozy, the first French president in more than 30 years to fail to win re-election, has left the question of his return open, his supporters and people close to him say he’ll make a political comeback.

The 59-year-old politician attended a Feb. 10 political rally for Paris mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. Last month he made it to the cover of the weekly Paris Match with his wife. He also met in Berlin with Merkel on Feb. 28.

Bernadette Chirac, former President Jacques Chirac’s wife and a Sarkozy supporter in the 2012 vote, has said the former head of state will “obviously” be a candidate in 2017.

A February survey by CSA showed voters’ views of Sarkozy were little changed since he left office. Asked if they miss Sarkozy being president, 54 percent said they don’t, compared with 40 percent who said they do, the poll showed.

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