Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy finally seems to be at the end of his Vale of Tears.
Though dogged by accusations of impropriety in public and judicial affairs since he lost the presidential election in 2012, he has emerged a survivor. The accusations from the past involved Bernard Tapie, the ex-owner of soccer club Olympic Marseille, a team implicated in match fixing, who backed the conservative Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election even though Tapie had been a Socialist Party minister in a previous government.
It was claimed that this was repayment for Sarkozy’s support during a tax dispute, but Sarkozy’s involvement was eventually deemed to be minimal.
In another scandal, the Bettencourt Affair, the accusations against Sarkozy were not so minor. A Bordeaux judge claimed during an investigation that Liliane Bettencourt – the 90-year-old L’Oreal heiress worth an estimated $30 billion – gave 800,000 euros in illegal contributions to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. The investigation claimed that Bettencourt was infirm and had been duped or coerced into donating the money.
That should have been enough to finish not only Sarkozy’s political career but also his good name. But on Monday, the French Justice Ministry announced it was dropping all charges of corruption against Sarkozy. The Bordeaux prosecutor, Marie- Madeleine Alliot, said no appeal will be made against this decision.
“The law has declared me innocent in the Bettencourt Affair,” Sarkozy proclaimed on his Facebook site. He went on to thank all those who supported him among his personal and political families, including the president of his UMP party, Jean- François Copé.
“To all the politicians who have been responsible, over these long months, who have used this affair to cultivate suspicions. I would like to remind you of the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence,” Sarkozy wrote.
But former advocate-general Philippe Bilger noted on Twitter that “Nicolas Sarkozy was not declared innocent.”
Ten others are due to stand trial because of their involvement in the Bettencourt scandal, including former UMP treasurer Eric Woerth.
In any case, Sarkozy’s family and close colleagues and friends are sure of his innocence and he remains their hero, past, present and future.
Nadine Morano, one of his former ministers, declared, “I always thought it would finish that way... the principle accusation was so grotesque.”
Contemplating the political horizon, Brice Hortefeux, a former interior minister, said: “Nicolas Sarkozy is now even freer to be the master of his own future.”
The whole affair has been about the future. After his election loss, Sarkozy has fallen back on the strategy adopted by Charles de Gaulle and here at home by David Ben-Gurion, of retiring to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises or Sde Boker, respectively, to wait for people to “want him.”
After his election downfall, Sarkozy was pursued through the courts.
“Sarkozy should be stopped” seemed to have been the mantra of many in the media and the political arena, united by the desire to stop their enemy making a comeback.
They had plenty of reasons to desire his ruin: his image as “friend of the rich” was resented by many; his marriages with his second wife, Cecilia, and with glamorous Carla Bruni, both from rich families; his hyperactive persona irritated many; as did his family background.
But the straws that broke the camel’s back were the Tapie and Bettencourt affairs. In July, the Council of State, which includes former presidents, (Nicolas Sarkozy is a member), refused to reimburse his political party, the UMP, for 11 million euros of election expenses.
Sarkozy was furious and resigned from the council.
In August, the UMP set out on a determined campaign to raise funds – 10m. euros have come in so far.
Now, having been cleared of all charges, able to speak without legal restraint, he has attacked the Fifth Republic’s lack of political even-handedness which, he said, “put in danger the very existence of the UMP.”
His predecessors on the right, president Jacques Chirac and prime minister Edouard Balladur, had to deal with similar financial problems in the 1990s and 2000s, but their campaign debts were covered.
Sarkozy has never hidden his ardent wish to take revenge against his Socialist Party rival, President François Hollande. Sarkozy is convinced that he represents the best defense against the rise in popularity of Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front.
Whether one likes Sarkozy or not, he may be the only one with the ability to reunite the right-wing opposition to this rising force on the far Right. When he has done that, he can strike back against the Left and take his revenge.
No one doubts it now: Sarkozy will make a big comeback. The strategy was always to begin his next campaign in 2015, but what has happened this week will accelerate the process.