Legal woes, rivals hamper Sarkozy's comeback

2014-10-02 16:11
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures as he delivers a speech during a meeting on September. (Philippe Huguen, AFP)

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures as he delivers a speech during a meeting on September. (Philippe Huguen, AFP)

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Paris - Announced with much fanfare two weeks ago, the return of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to front-line politics has quickly become bogged down by legal woes and sniping from rivals.

Putting an end to one of the worst-kept secrets in France, Sarkozy announced on his Facebook page on September 19 that he was running for the head of his conservative UMP party to offer disenchanted voters a "new political choice".

Although as-yet unstated, the energetic 59-year-old's end goal is to reclaim the keys of the Elysee Palace lost to Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the bitter 2012 presidential election.

But despite a prime-time television outing and several days pounding the campaign trail in France drumming up support, Sarkozy's return has become mired in one of his several legal battles and he does not appear to be energising the voters.

A YouGov/Huffington Post poll published on Thursday showed that 56% of voters were opposed to his return, with only 32% in favour.

And as many predicted before his comeback, his legal woes have immediately come back to bite him, notably a scandal surrounding the financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

The so-called "Bygmalion affair" concerns invoices for events staged by PR company Bygmalion during the campaign that were allegedly charged to the UMP rather than the campaign coffers.

Sarkozy has always denied any wrongdoing.

But the net is closing in on close Sarkozy allies, with police detaining one of his former top aides, Eric Cesari, described as the "eyes" of the former president, for questioning.

On Wednesday, the first charges were pressed in the case, against three former Bygmalion directors, and the enquiry will seek to find out to what extent Sarkozy himself was in the loop.

Sarkozy is also embroiled in a host of other legal battles, although he received a boost last week when a probe into corruption and influence-peddling was frozen pending a study of a request by the former president to have it dismissed.

Battle of the Chiracs

Sarkozy suffered another blow on Thursday when another former president, the still-popular Jacques Chirac, came out in favour of his main rival for the head of the UMP, Alain Juppe.

"I have always known that Alain Juppe would answer the call of his destiny and that of France. Few things would give me as much pleasure, for me, for him and especially for our country", said the former UMP president.

"If I had the energy, I would already have booked my place, even a minor one, in the headquarters" of Juppe's campaign, said Chirac.

The comments put Chirac at loggerheads with his wife Bernadette, who has been a major supporter of Sarkozy. She said of Juppe "he is very, very cold and does not attract people."

The third person in the running to lead the UMP into the next presidential election in 2017, Francois Fillon, suggested Bygmalion was well known in the party at the time of the campaign.

"I wasn't involved in organising the 2012 campaign but I often heard about Bygmalion and I often saw that Bygmalion was a company that worked regularly with the UMP", Fillon told French television.

Sarkozy himself has insisted that he only heard of Bygmalion "a long time after the presidential campaign."

Read more on:    nicolas sarkozy  |  france

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