PARIS – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed in formal custody, charged with influence peddling, the BBC reports.
News of the formal investigation into the ex-French president came Tuesday evening after Sarkozy, 59, was questioned for 15 hours by French authorities in relation to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
A judicial official said Sarkozy was detained for questioning Tuesday at the headquarters of the judicial police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Sarkozy has vigorously denied wrongdoing. The 59-year-old hasn’t been convicted of anything and remains well-known on the international stage. And he may be his troubled conservative party’s best chance to regain the presidency in 2017, after losing it to Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.
French police, prosecutors and other judicial officials would not provide any details on the investigation.
BFM television said late Tuesday night that Sarkozy was transferred to an investigating judge, who could charge him, name him as a witness, or release him.
French media reports say Sarkozy is being questioned in an investigation linked to financing for his 2007 presidential campaign, notably allegations that late Libyan leader Gadhafi gave Sarkozy illegal campaign donations.
Allies from Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party – which has been in a leadership crisis – jumped to the former president’s defence.
“They have never imposed such treatment on a former president, with such a surge of hate,” lawmaker Christian Estrosi tweeted.
Former French President Jacques Chirac was convicted in a corruption case in 2011 after he left office, but when he was questioned he was not held in police custody.
The Socialist government tried to stay above the fray.
“Justice officials are investigating, they should carry out the task to the end. Nicolas Sarkozy is a citizen answerable to justice like any other,” government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said on i-Tele television.
Political scientist Thomas Guenole said it’s too early to draw conclusions about Sarkozy’s political future.
“Nicolas Sarkozy has often been pronounced politically dead over the last two years because he was implicated in political-judicial affairs … And he has always emerged,” Guenole said.
With files from The Associated Press and BBC News Europe
© The Associated Press, 2014