The last French President Nicolas Sarkozy has escaped being placed under formal investigation after an all-day grilling by a judge over accusations of illegal political funding.
According to his lawyer, he has instead been made what is known as an “assisted witness” – more than a simple witness, less than a formal suspect. Charges could still follow.
Sarkozy was questioned for around 12 hours in Bordeaux.
The investigating judge is probing claims that the former president took advantage of the frailty of the richest woman in France, the L’Oréal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt, to obtain large cash payments that are way over the legal limit for campaign donations.
Her former accountant has claimed that the money was given to Eric Woerth, Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer during his successful bid for the presidency five years ago.
Both deny wrongdoing. However, the allegations cast a cloud over Sarkozy’s chances of a political comeback.
Meanwhile his centre-right UMP party, now in opposition, is threatening to disintegrate after a vitriolic leadership battle.