French prosecutor requests criminal trial for Sarkozy
A French prosecutor has requested former president Nicolas Sarkozy be sent to trial over suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
The Paris prosecutor's office said on Monday it has asked investigating judges to send Mr Sarkozy and 13 others to court in the criminal case. It is now up to the judges to decide whether Mr Sarkozy must stand trial.
Mr Sarkozy announced his bid for next year's presidential election last month and faces a primary in November against a dozen other conservative candidates.
His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denounced the prosecutor's request as "gross political manoeuvring". He noted that the move falls on the day the trial opened for Jerome Cahuzac, a former budget minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande forced to resign and charged with allegedly hiding part of his wealth in overseas tax havens.
If the investigating judges eventually decide to send Mr Sarkozy to court, it is unlikely any trial could be held before the April-May presidential election. If Mr Sarkozy was elected next year, he would be granted immunity as president and would not be able to stand trial in the case before the end of the five-year term.
In February, the judges handed Mr Sarkozy preliminary charges of alleged illegal campaign financing over an invoice system his party and a company named Bygmalion allegedly used to conceal unauthorised overspending.
France had a ceiling on presidential campaign funding in 2012 of 22.5 million euros (£18.8 million). The conservative Mr Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-2012 and lost that year's election to Socialist Francois Hollande, is accused of spending 17 million euros (£14.2 million) over that limit.
Mr Sarkozy's party was then called UMP but has since renamed itself the Republicans. He quit as party leader when he announced his presidential bid two weeks ago.
Several people close to Mr Sarkozy are among those requested to stand trial in the case. The former president has already paid back 364,000 euros (£305,000) for overspending in the campaign.
"We are absolutely serene about the fact that all this will end up in a dismissed case," said Daniel Fasquelle, the treasurer of the Republicans. "I'm also surprised that this news is being announced today... as Nicolas Sarkozy just started his campaign."
The so-called "Bygmalion case" is one of several legal cases in which his name has surfaced.
In a separate case, Mr Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges of corruption and influence-peddling based on information gleaned from phone taps about an alleged bid to get information from a judge ahead of a decision.
Preliminary charges mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed but give them more time to investigate before deciding whether to send suspects to trial.
Mr Sarkozy has not been convicted of any wrongdoing or gone to trial.