Sarkozy’s former spy chief placed under ‘formal investigation’

Suqarcini

Suqarcini

The former head of France’s DGSI domestic intelligence agency was placed under formal investigation on Wednesday on suspicions of influence peddling. Squarcini was a close ally of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bernard “The Shark” Squarcini is suspected of using his police contacts to obtain confidential information about investigations for private clients after he was dismissed as spy chief following Sarkozy’s failed 2012 re-election bid.

Squarcini, who set up a private consultancy after losing his job, is also accused of illegally using secret information.

While Sarkozy is not himself accused in the affair, the case has added to the scandals engulfing him as he campaigns for his centre-right Les Républicains (formerly the UMP) party nomination ahead of the 2017 presidential vote.

On Tuesday he was hit by fresh allegations of accepting millions of euros from deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his 2007 presidential campaign. Judicial sources confirmed that investigators had retrieved a diary belonging to former Libyan prime minister Shukri Ghanem that details a series of transfers to Sarkozy’s campaign totaling €6.5 million.

Ghanem, who defected from Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, was found dead in 2012 in the Danube river in Vienna.

Sarkozy has denied the claims from several former Gaddafi loyalists that he was in the pocket of the Libyan leader, whom he helped oust during a 2011 NATO-led bombing campaign in which France fired the first shot.

Eye on 2017

For Pascal Perrineau, a professor at Sciences Po university in Paris, the growing list of allegations against Sarkozy may not serve to derail his presidential campaign.

Either “people will say that’s enough, there’s no smoke without fire”, or he may actually succeed in convincing right-wing voters that “everyone is after me”.

But the most damaging allegations could be those coming from Patrick Buisson, a historian and former top adviser to Sarkozy who masterminded his controversial shift to the right in the second half of his presidency.

Ahead of the publication of “The cause of the people: The forbidden history of the Sarkozy presidency” (La Cause du peuple, l’histoire interdite de la présidence Sarkozy) Buisson insisted he was not out to settle scores with his old boss, claiming the book aims instead to encourage France’s right wing to reflect on recent political history and on the path it should forge in the future.

Sarkozy filed suit against Buisson in 2014 for taping him in secret for the book, which paints a blistering picture of the ex-leader as a “fake tough guy” with an outsized need to feel loved.

Sarkozy, Buisson wrote, was a “political trader” whose stern rhetoric on immigration and economic reforms masked a “soft hand”.

Buisson also accused Sarkozy of secretly cosying up to the founder of the far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, during the 2007 election and of defending the National Front’s values as those “of all French people” in private discussions with advisers.

Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, eventually obtained €20,000 in damages from Buisson. In reference to the taping scandal, the former president would later declare on French television: “In my life I have experienced many betrayals. But never as bad.”