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France

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy held for questioning in graft probe

France's ex-president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been detained for questioning in a corruption probe, according to legal sources. It follows the detention of his lawyer a day earlier.

In a first-ever move against a former French president, Sarkozy was held for questioning Tuesday morning by investigators at their offices in Nanterre, west of Paris.

He had turned himself in, a day after his lawyer Thierry Herzog and two magistrates were also detained, according to news agencies quoting legal sources.

Under French law, anti-corruption investigators can detain Sarkozy for up to 24 hours for questioning, with the possibility to extend that for another day.

The detention of Sarkozy, 59, is part of a long-running corruption investigation seeking to establish whether he, with the help of his lawyer, attempted to pervert the cause of justice.

String of allegations

Investigators suspect Sarkozy had sought to obtain inside information about the progress of other investigations into him, and that Sarkozy had been tipped off that his mobile phone had been tapped while allegations surrounding the funding of his 2007 election campaign were being investigated.

Those allegations include that he was helped to victory with donations of up to 50 million euros ($70 million) from former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and cash from France's richest woman, elderly L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

The charges relating to Bettencourt were dropped last year, and Sarkozy has dismissed the Gadhafi claims as ridiculous. He labeled the tapping of his phone as worthy of former communist East Germany's Stasi secret police.

Recently, Sarkozy has also been linked to a separate scandal relating to the financing of his unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign.

Sarkozy served as French president from 2007 until 2012. The current investigations are seen as having the potential to shatter his hopes of a comeback ahead of the next presidential elections in 2017.

se/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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