Nicolas Sarkozy faces 'influence peddling' probe over €3m Russian insurance 'consultancy' contract

Mr Sarkozy was president from 2007-2012  - THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images
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Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under preliminary investigation for "influence peddling" over a €3 million (£2.7m) contract with a Russian insurance company, French prosecutors confirmed on Friday.

The probe by the national financial prosecutor, PNF, is in relation to a contract the 65-year old Right-winger signed with Russian group Reso-Garaantia.

He is under preliminary investigation for "influence peddling and concealing a crime or misdemeanour". Under French law, this means judges suspect potential wrongdoing but have insufficient evidence to press charges.

According to investigative website Mediapart, which revealed the probe, anti-corruption investigators started working on this case last summer after France's fraud unit Tracfin expressed concerns over the nature of the contract with the Russian insurance group.

According to Mediapart, Mr Sarkozy, who was French president from 2007 to 2012, received an initial payment of €500,000 early last year as part of a €3m contract.

Reso-Garaantia is owned by two Russian-Armenian brothers, Sergey and Nikolay Sarkisov, who confirmed to the website that they had paid Mr Sarkozy as a "special advisor" and "chairman of the strategic council committee to the management board".

French prosecutors did not provide details regarding their suspicions regarding the contract.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (C) arrives for a hearing of his trial on corruption charges in Paris on December 7, 2020 - MARTIN BUREAU/AFP
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (C) arrives for a hearing of his trial on corruption charges in Paris on December 7, 2020 - MARTIN BUREAU/AFP

Reports of the new probe came as Mr Sarkozy faces a string of legal woes.

A verdict is due on March 1 in his landmark corruption trial in which prosecutors have called for a sentence of four years, two in prison, on suspicion of seeking to bribe a judge with a plum retirement job in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

He is also currently being investigated over allegations he accepted €50m from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to illicitly fund his 2007 election and is also accused of fraudulently overspending on his failed 2012 reelection bid.

Mr Sarkozy insisted at a hearing in his graft trial last December that he "never committed the slightest act of corruption" and vowed to go "all the way" to clear his name.

This is the second time the conservative ex-leader has hit the headlines this week.

On Wednesday, investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné revealed this his ex-wife Cecilia was paid as a parliamentary assistant in 2002 and alleged that there was no evidence she did any work to justify a €3,100 salary for a part-time job in 2002 when he was interior minister.

"Not an article, no report, not one of the many books devoted to the former first lady mentions her work as a parliamentary assistant," the weekly wrote.

It quoted Cecilia telling a TV interviewer in 2002: "I am not paid, the work I do with my husband is voluntary."

Mr Sarkozy’s entourage denied any wrongdoing, confirming the existing of the contract and telling RTL that it had lasted “nine months until March 2003”, allowing Cecilia to “keep track of dossiers” in the constituency.