After reporting that Nicolas Sarkozy was to appear before a judge last week in response to claims that he accepted illegal funds from L'Oréal cosmetics heiress for his presidential campaign back in 2007, various media outlets now say he was not put under formal investigation, but has instead been designated a witness in the inquiry.
According to The Times of India, although magistrates are said to have questioned the former French President at length in an effort to establish if he had received funding from Liliane Bettencourt, the courts designated him a 'witness' in the whole affair.
"At the end of this hearing, Nicolas Sarkozy was notified of his status as witness," said a prosecutor in a brief statement.
This appearance in the Bordeaux court is said to have been the first time Sarkozy has officially been summonded on the matter since losing the presidency and legal immunity back in May, and police searching his home and office back in July.
What does this mean?
According to the online publication, an ‘assisted witness’ means that unless new evidence is uncovered to place Sarkozy under formal investigation, he will not face trial at the end of the inquiry.
And that, the three investigating magistrates assigned with the case could have placed him under formal investigation, a step that can, but does not necessarily lead to trial, but instead designates Sarkozy a witness.
Although the former President denies any wrongdoing in regards to the accusations, any drawn-out legal investigation could damage his chances of running on the 2017 presidential election, something one recent poll showed 52 percent of his party's supporters want.
Last year, a judge who investigated donations by the L’Oreal heiress to fund Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign claimed that personal donations did in fact exchange hands.
The revelation re-opened the case that had already rocked French politics and the reputation of the L’Oreal name for a year previous, triggered by a legal challenge from Bettencourt’s daughter over whether or not she was capable of managing her day-to-day business affairs.
The claims were published in a book, entitled ‘Sarko m’a tuer’ (Sarkozy killed me), authored by two investigative journalists from the French national broadsheet Le Monde, which contained an interview with the reputable magistrate Isabelle Prevost-Deprez.
The interview featured Prevost-Deprez making clear references to personal donations made by the heiress to Sarkozy and to a reliable witness who claims to have seen Europe’s richest woman hand bank notes to the then French presidential candidate.