A French court has ruled an investigation may continue into whether former president Nicolas Sarkozy misled heiress Liliane Bettencourt into donating money for his 2007 election campaign.
Sarkozy’s political career could suffer if he is tried over allegations of exploiting the mental frailty of France’s richest woman. He denies any misconduct.
Twelve people are being investigated in the case. Sarkozy could be called to face trial at any time. After Bettencourt was declared to have been suffering from dementia since 2006, he was placed under formal investigation in March for so-called “abuse of weakness”. His lawyers contested the 2011 medical report. If their bid had been upheld, the main pillar of the charge against him would have collapsed.
The centre-right Sarkozy has largely stayed out of the limelight since his defeat to Socialist François Hollande in last year’s presidential poll, but has dropped hints this year that he is considering running for France’s highest political office again. If ever Sarkozy were found guilty, he would be liable for a three-year prison sentence.
The appeal court’s decision to proceed with the investigation was announced by the Bettencourt family lawyer.
Sarkozy’s lawyers had argued that the formal inquiry could not be viewed as impartial because one of the doctors involved in the senility report was a friend of the judge who placed Sarkozy under investigation, Jean-Michel Gentil.
The former president has other legal entanglements, too: dealing with allegations that the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi contributed to his 2007 campaign, and a corruption investigation – the Karachi Affair – linked to arms sales and a bombing in Pakistan in 2002, in which 15 people including 11 French nationals were killed.
Sarkozy’s office has said he had nothing to do with any aspect of that case – but several of his allies are under pressure over it. If he is convicted of accepting envelopes stuffed with cash from Bettencourt, Sarkozy would also face a five-year ban from public office.