Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation for influence-peddling.
He is suspected of trying to foil an earlier enquiry into his election campaign seven years ago.
A formal investigation usually means there is “serious or consistent evidence” pointing to probable implication of a suspect.
Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister, described the allegations as “serious” and said the investigation was independent of the government.
“As head of government I have to remind you about the principles: firstly judicial independence, which must do its job without interference; nobody is above the law. Secondly, and obviously, it is important to remember the presumption of innocence that applies to everyone,” Valls said in an interview on French television channel BFM.
Magistrates are looking to see whether Sarkozy used his influence to get leaked details of an enquiry into his 2007 election campaign.
On the streets of Paris, there were mixed reactions.
One woman said: “It’s perhaps a little political. We don’t know. Is it to prevent Sarkozy running in 2017? Clearly you could ask yourself the question. If it is political, it’s really scandalous.”
“This man was going to revolutionise and reform France so there would be no injustice. It’s a shame for him, a shame also for his party and his friends,” said a man.
Sarkozy had been expected to launch a presidential comeback in 2017 after being defeated by socialist rival Francois Hollande two years ago.