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France’s Sarkozy grilled in campaign funding probe

BC-FRANCE-SARKOZY-1ST-LEDE:DPA - world xtop itop (300 words),0339

France’s Sarkozy grilled in campaign funding probe

WRITETHRU (EDITORS: Changes throughout.) (ARCHIVE PHOTOS)

dpa (MCT)

PARIS - French investigating magistrates questioned former President Nicolas Sarkozy for 12 hours Thursday about allegations that he received illegal donations toward his 2007 election campaign.

The hearing in the city of Bordeaux concerned allegations that Sarkozy received cash-stuffed envelopes from billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L’Oreal fortune, either directly or through intermediaries.

At the end of the questioning, the magistrates made Sarkozy, 57, a witness under caution suspected of taking advantage of a person in a position of weakness.

The status of witness under caution means that the magistrates suspected Sarkozy of being complicit in the affair but did not have enough evidence to charge him.

He still could be charged before the investigation is over.

Sarkozy has vigorously denied receiving about $192,000 toward his campaign from the 90-year-old Bettencourt, who was placed under legal guardianship last year after doctors said she was suffering from dementia.

Under French law, individual campaign contributions are capped at about $5,900.

The treasurer of Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign, former budget minister Eric Woerth, who is accused of having collected envelopes in person, already has been charged.

The outcome of the investigation could decide whether Sarkozy makes a political comeback.

While he has maintained public silence since his defeat in May’s election, Sarkozy is believed to harbor ambitions of a rematch against President Francois Hollande in 2017.

The current disarray in his Union for a Popular Movement party is seen as boosting his chances of a comeback.

The party has been split by a disputed election on a leader to replace Sarkozy.

Both Jean-Francois Cope, an ally of Sarkozy, and Francois Fillon, his former prime minister, contended they won Sunday’s vote.

Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe has agreed to mediate in the dispute.

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©2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Nicolas Sarkozy

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