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Ex-president Sarkozy fights back in the face of charges in French corruption probe

PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy has accused the French justice system of trying to “destroy” him, after he was charged in a corruption probe.

The former conservative party leader fought back Wednesday in a broadcast interview after he was questioned over a highly publicized judicial investigation linked to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

The detention — a very unusual move for such a high-level figure — has dominated French news broadcasts, and comes as a possible political comeback by the hard-driving 59-year-old has been floated by his faltering UMP party.

Sarkozy, who spent nearly a day in custody Tuesday answering questions on his 2007 presidential campaign, told TF1 TV and Europe-1 radio he was “profoundly shocked” over his 16-hour detention.

“Is it normal that I should be in custody for so long?” Sarkozy asked, squinting intensely at an interviewer. He said his detention was motivated out of “a desire to humiliate me.”

“A part of the justice system is being used for political purposes,” he said.

Sarkozy warned of an unspecified plot: “In our country... there are things that are in the process of being organized. The French need to know them, and in their conscience, and freely, need to judge what’s happening.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the investigation was being carried out independently of the Socialist government. His boss, Socialist President Francois Hollande, defeated Sarkozy in the presidential race in 2012.

“This situation is serious. The facts are serious,” Valls told BFM TV. “But as head of the government, I’m asking that we remember the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work serenely. No one is above the law is the second principle. And thirdly, an important reminder, there is the presumption of innocence.”

Sarkozy is accused of tapping political allies to gain intelligence on a flurry of probes linked to campaign finance. He has vigorously denied the claims, and insisted Wednesday that he has “never betrayed trust” of the French people.

His personal lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and magistrate Gilbert Azibert were also questioned.

“This is yet another thing to erode the image of the political class, because it gives the image of an all-powerful group that believes itself to be above the law,” said Jean Garrigues, a political historian at the University of Orleans and the Sorbonne.

Lawyers for Herzog and Azibert said the men were handed preliminary charges of influence trafficking.

After further investigation, judges will determine whether to hold a trial.

 
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