Nicolas Sarkozy Flees France...
Nicolas Sarkozy predicted that French police would come looking for him days before his marital home with Carla Bruni and his office was raided as part of an ongoing illegal campaign funding scandal.
Fraud squad officers and an investigating magistrate yesterday searched the Paris home of Mr Sarkozy and his wife, as well as the office he moved into since losing his re-election bid in May. Reports of a raid at the offices of a law firm where he is an associate were denied this morning.
Mr Sarkozy lost his judicial immunity as head of state two weeks ago.
Magistrates are investigating claims that house staff of Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal cosmetics empire and France's richest woman, handed over brown envelopes stuffed with cash to Mr Sarkozy and his aides to finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
On holiday in Canada since Monday, Mr Sarkozy has made no public comment on the raids. But Le Parisien quoted him as telling friends in recent days: “I know they’ll come looking for me. Nothing will come of it all.”
He has previously dismissed suggestions he received illegal payments as an electoral “stink bomb”.
This morning Socialist interior minister Manuel Valls said: “(Sarkozy) is answerable to the law like anyone else. Justice must shine a light (on this case).” While insisting his role was to “respect the independence of the justice system, these inquiries, these raids”, Mr Valls added that France was going through a “moral crisis” after five years under Mr Sarkozy.
A judicial source cited by Libération newspaper said: “It was obvious even before these raids that judge (Jean-Michel) Gentil would summon (Mr Sarkozy). It is now inevitable.”
One Sarkozy ally was quoted by Le Parisien as accusing the judge of “show justice” and a “publicity stunt”.
Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer claims his official diary of 2007 proves it was “materially impossible” for him to have personally visited Mrs Bettencourt and her late husband André to allegedly pick up cash envelopes. But Antoine Gillot, lawyer for Mrs Bettencourt’s former book keeper and butler told Libération: “These raids prove that the documents Sarkozy gave the judge prove nothing.”
The judge in the Bettencourt case is also investigating whether the aged billionaire's entourage is guilty of "abuse of weakness" – taking advantage of her waning mental capacities for financial gain.
Eleven people have already been charged in the case.
Several former employees of Mrs Bettencourt and her late husband André have the told the judge that Mr Sarkozy discreetly turned up in person to their mansion in Neuilly at least twice before his election in February and April 2007. These staff members include her former chauffeur, nurse and butler.
Days after losing his presidential immunity, Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, sent the judge his diary in the weeks before his 2007 election, saying it proved that no "supposedly secret rendezvous" to receive illicit funding could have taken place.
There is only one official mention of a meeting between Mr Sarkozy and the Bettencourts in the diary, which shows he paid a brief visit on February 24, 2007, two months before the first round of presidential elections.
Mr Herzog claimed this was a "courtesy call" that lasted 20 to 25 minutes, that any other meetings would have been mentioned, and that diary showed it was "materially impossible" for Mr Sarkozy to have been present in other dates mentioned by staff.
Mr Herzog confirmed the former president, who lost his re-election battle to Socialist François Hollande last month, said on Tuesday: "These raids ... will prove to be, as expected, futile."
Mrs Bettencourt was placed under legal guardianship in October, after a marathon legal battle over her 16 billion-euro (£12.8 billion) fortune.
It began when her estranged daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers accused a society photographer and other advisers of taking advantage of the heiress, who suffers from dementia.
Judge Gentil has cited two suspect withdrawals of 400,000 euros each from Swiss bank accounts on behalf of Mrs Bettencourt's former wealth manager Patrice de Maistre, also under investigation. He spent almost three months in prison while the judge repeatedly quizzed him on where the money went.
The first withdrawal was made on February 5, 2007, two days before a meeting between Mr de Maistre and Eric Woerth, at the time Mr Sarkozy's campaign treasurer.
Mr Woerth later became labour minister but resigned in 2010 over the mushrooming funding scandal and in 2011 police carried out searches of his home and offices of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party.
Mrs Bettencourt's accountant, Claire Thibout, has testified to having been asked in 2007 to provide 150,000 euros to Mr Woerth. He faces charges of receiving cash payments and a conflict of interest. He denies any wrongdoing.
The second questionable withdrawal was made on April 26, 2007 – four days after the first round of the presidential election that Mr Sarkozy eventually won.
The judge is also intrigued by a suspicious diary entry by Mrs Bettencourt's photographer friend François-Marie Banier, who wrote on April 26, 2007, that the heiress mentioned a "request for money" from Mr Sarkozy to which she "said yes".
French law limits individual donations to political parties to 7,500 euros (£6,000) per person per year and 4,600 euros (£3,700) during political campaigns. Only 150 euros (£120) may be given in cash.
Mr Sarkozy is potentially facing questioning in a separate probe into who ordered French intelligence services to unlawfully identify the source of journalists investigating the Bettencourt scandal.
Henry Samuel - Paris - July 4, 2012 - Telegraph.uk