Defiant Sarkozy slams ‘unconstitutional’ court summons

Former French president refuses to answer questions while appearing as a witness in trial involving ex-aides.

Sarkozy had initially said he would not appear as a witness in the trial about the opinion polls commissioned during his time as president [Christian Hartmann/Reuters]

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, twice convicted in recent months, has slammed as “unconstitutional” his summons to give evidence in a trial in which his former aides are accused of misusing public funds on polling contracts.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007-2012, refused to answer questions while appearing before a criminal court in Paris on Tuesday.

The 66-year-old had initially said he would not appear as a witness in the trial about the opinion polls commissioned during his time as president, but he was later ordered by a judge to do so.

Sarkozy said the decision to summon him was “completely unconstitutional” and “totally disproportionate”.

“It is an essential principle of democracies known as the separation of powers and as president of the Republic I do not have to account for the organisation of my office or the way in which I exercised my mandate,” he told the court.

Protected by his presidential immunity in the polling contracts case, Sarkozy has never been charged or interrogated for any alleged wrongdoing.

But five aides and allies of his, including his former chief of staff Claude Gueant and ex-adviser and consultant Patrick Buisson, have been on trial since October 18 accused of misusing public money and cronyism.

Prosecutors have said the polling contracts signed by Sarkozy’s staff during his time as president were sealed in secret and without competition – breaking French laws on public financing that require transparency and competitive bidding.

The accused have all denied the charges.

Tuesday’s developments came after a French court handed Sarkozy a one-year prison sentence in late September for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, seven months after he received a separate jail term for corruption.

Sarkozy, who is appealing both sentences, is not expected to serve time behind bars, with the courts ruling that he can wear an electronic bracelet at home instead.

He has promised to clear his name and has accused French prosecutors of a “witch-hunt”.

Sarkozy has also been charged over allegations that he received millions of euros for his 2007 election campaign from the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Despite his legal woes, which appear to have ended his political career, at least for now, Sarkozy remains a highly influential figure on the right as France prepares for presidential elections in April.

Key figures in President Emmanuel Macron’s government – centrist, but increasingly right-leaning – such as Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, are former Sarkozy allies.

Source: News Agencies