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Nicolas Sarkozy cleared of corruption charges

Judges investigating election financing scandal drop corruption charge against former French president.

Last Modified: 07 Oct 2013 21:07
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Sarkozy remains embroiled in a string of unrelated legal investigations [AFP]

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been cleared of allegations that he illegally received cash from France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, to help fund his successful 2007 election campaign.

Monday's announcement increased chances for a political comeback for Sarkozy who lost the presidency to Socialist Francios Holande last year.

After six months of deliberations, the judges in charge of the case have decided to send only 10 of the 12 accused for trial and to drop proceedings against Sarkozy and one other suspect, tax lawyer Fabrice Goguel, judicial sources told AFP news agency.

Sarkozy, whom most conservatives want to see lead the centre-right in the 2017 presidential race, was targeted with others in a judicial inquiry into his UMP party ties with cosmetics major L'Oreal heiress Bettencourt.

The unexpected decision removes the biggest and most immediate obstacle to a career revival for the 58-year-old, although he remains embroiled in a string of unrelated legal investigations.

Sarkozy hailed the decision, thanking his supporters and criticising political opponents who had used the case against him.

"To those politicians who during these long months used this 'scandal' and participated in fostering suspicion, I want to remind them that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle," Sarkozy said in a statement on his Facebook page.

"Slander gets us nowhere. It does nothing but debase democracy."

Presidential ambitions

At the heart of the matter was the allegation that the former president took advantage of the mental frailty of billionaire Bettencourt to obtain money for his presidential campaign.

A former Bettencourt accountant told police she handed over $192,000 in cash, an amount well over the maximum allowed as campaign contribution.

The former president's name has also surfaced in other investigations, including the "Karachi Affair", a drawn out corruption case linked to arms sales and a deadly bombing in Pakistan in 2002.

This has not discouraged ambitions for the 2017 elections. Recent polls show he is still relatively popular among his fellow conservatives, whose UMP party is frought with infighting. This, however, may be a questionable assessment.

Sarkozy may struggle despite his popularity with right-wing voters to impose himself as the natural head of party.

The centre-right party, once a disciplined group has splintered into factions loyal to other rivals, with some in the party saying Sarkozy should bow out of politics.

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