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France

Former Sarkozy allies held in French graft probe

Two close allies of French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy have been held for questioning in a corruption probe in Paris. The incident threatens to undermine the former head of state's plan to return to power.

French police confirmed Tuesday that the former director-general of the national police, Michel Gaudin, and the former chief of staff and interior minister, Claude Gueant (pictured left), were being questioned over an the operation of an alleged secret slush fund when Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured right) was at the helm of the state.

An investigation had been opened as early as June after a government report revealed that Gueant had been handed 10,000 euros ($13,800) in cash every month from the police budget between 2002 and 2004.

Police said they had been allowed to question the two men for up to 48 hours before deciding whether to charge them. Such a move could cause a serious problem for Sarkozy as he works on his political comeback.

Trouble ahead?

Sarkozy's party financing under scrutiny

Gueant insisted the cash in question had never been for personal or political use, but was used to pay special bonuses to officers assigned to ensure Sarkozy's personal protection in line what he said was a long-standing practice in the ministry.

Sarkozy was French president until 2012 when he was defeated by the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande.

The biggest obstacle to his political comeback in time to compete in the 2017 election was widely seen as having been cleared in October when judges dropped a formal corruption charge against him in a probe into illegal party financing.

hg/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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