PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy lashed out at French magistrates Wednesday for pursuing “grotesque” corruption charges against him, accusing the officials who put him under investigation of being politically biased and seeking to humiliate and destroy him.
Speaking publicly for the first time since leaving office in 2012, Sarkozy, 59, said in an extraordinary nationally televised interview that “parts of the justice system” were staining his reputation.
“In our country, the country of human rights and the right of law, there are things that are being organized.... Everything is being done to give an image of me that is not the truth. To all those watching and listening, I want to say that I have never betrayed their confidence. I have never committed an act against republican principles or the law,” he said.
Sarkozy, dressed in a somber suit and tie, spoke on French channels TF1 and Europe1. He appeared tanned and cleanshaven, in contrast to recent photos showing him with fashionable face stubble.
Magistrates delving into corruption allegations against Sarkozy put him under official investigation late Tuesday.
Sarkozy was mis en examen, the equivalent of being charged, in connection with allegations of peddling influence and directly or indirectly abusing his power in an attempt to find out information about legal investigations of him, the magistrates said.
The decision, described by the French economic paper Les Echos as a “spectacular measure,” is a serious blow to the former president, who was believed to be planning a political comeback in the 2017 presidential election. It came after the former leader, who has always vigorously denied any wrongdoing, was quizzed by investigators at a police station on the outskirts of Paris for more than 15 hours.
Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and a magistrate are also under investigation. The two have been accused of attempting to violate the secrecy of a legal inquiry.
Calling the accusations “grotesque,” Sarkozy asked in the interview, “Is it normal that I am bugged, that my most private conversations with my lawyer are bugged and diffused to journalists?… There is a wish to humiliate me that is not normal.”
“I don't ask for any privileges,” he said. “If I have committed errors I will take the consequences. I am not a man to flee my responsibilities.”
He said that he had spent 35 years in public life, and that no other politician in that time had come under such legal scrutiny. However, he insisted that no evidence had been found against him.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “Nothing.”
Detectives will now try to establish whether Sarkozy and the others tried to obtain confidential information about an investigation of illegal campaign donations for his successful 2007 presidential bid, including money from Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi and France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal heiress.
During their investigation, detectives tapped the phones of Sarkozy and Herzog, and the two were allegedly heard discussing an attempt to get information about the case from a magistrate in return for offering him a high-level position in Monaco.
Investigators are also looking into the financing of Sarkozy's unsuccessful 2012 campaign, which he lost to Francois Hollande.
Willsher is a special correspondent.