France | Nicolas Sarkozy indicted for Taking Advantage of the Mental Weakness of Liliane Bettencourt
This is the second time a President of the Fifth Republic has been indicted. After Jacques Chirac was accused of embezzlement while he was mayor of Paris, in a mild surprise, Nicolas Sarkozy, after five years of proceedings, has been accused of taking advantage of Liliane Bettencourt’s mental weakness.
In the court of Judge Jean-Michel Gentil in Bordeaux, the confrontation was rough. The former president was confronted with the testimony of four staff members of the billionaire, in addition to the original butler recordings issue, all of whom say they saw Sarkozy with the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt several times. However, Sarkozy has always protested vigorously that he only visited the home of Bettencourt once in February 2007. But the servants contradicted him, some with dates and even details of his clothing, such as a black turtleneck sweater. Judge Gentil compared the dates of these visits with the movement of funds from the billionaire, and they correspond to a large outflow of money of hundreds of thousands of Euros. In a statement, the Bordeaux prosecutor announced in the wake of the confrontation: “Nicolas Sarkozy, who enjoys the presumption of innocence, was notified of an indictment for taking advantage of the mental weakness of Liliane Betancourt Schuller in February 2007.”
Even if this morning the UMP has a hangover, this turn of events is not really too surprising when one focuses on the personality of Judge Gentil, whose reputation for inflexibility is well-known. It appeared in the media spotlight in the 1990s, when he dealt with the prostitution rings in Paris. He showed the same determination in 2001 when, a year after his arrival in Ajaccio, he indicted Antoine Sollacaro, counsel for the recently assassinated Yvan Colonna, for “violating the secrecy of the investigation.”
Many observers thought that the Bettancourt investigation was at an end. One of them, former Minister Laurent Wauquiez, told AFP: “I do not believe there is a coincidence in the timing.” He said the indictment was “announced in more than questionable legal conditions without any warning.” Mr. Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, defended his client, claiming the decision was “legally inconsistent and unfair.”
The Right Reacts
Reactions from the right were slow due to the surprise created by the indictment. The word “anger” is now the one most used by Sarkozy’s supporters. Geoffroy Didier, co-president of the UMP, said he was “shocked.” Others said they were “surprised.” Thierry Mariani, the UMP deputy for overseas French, wondered if “some judges have a hostility towards certain personalities.”
But the real question is what will happen inside the UMP, which has already been shaken by the infighting between Jean François Copé and François Fillon. Will the internal conflict now explode or will the party tighten its ranks following the indictment of its champion?
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