Former President Nicolas Sarkozy declared war on the French government today, accusing them of acting like the East German secret police, the Stasi, by conspiring with magistrates to bug his telephones.
In his first public declaration since he was defeated in the May 2012 presidential elections, Mr Sarkozy wrote a passionate and vituperative two page article in the newspaper Le Figaro accusing the Socialist government of acting like a “dictatorship” and trampling “human rights”.
The article follows explosive revelations in the French media that independent judges investigating alleged financial wrong-doing by Mr Sarkozy had tapped several of his telephones from July last year.
The bugging revealed an alleged attempt by the ex-President to derail investigations against him – which cover, amongst other things, an accusation that he took money from the former Libyan dictator, Moammar Gaddafi.
His public counter-attack yesterday provoked equally blistering responses from President Francois Hollande and members of his government.
Mr Hollande said that is was “intolerable” to compare France with East Germany. The interior minister, Manuel Valls, said that Mr Sarkozy was trying to “protect himself” behind a screen of “rage”. Other Socialist politicians spoke of the “Berlusconisation” of Mr Sarkozy.
In the French judicial system, investigating magistrates are independent of the government. There is no evidence that 12 different magistrates investigating the former President – including the two who bugged him – are under government influence.
Mr Sarkozy’s supporters – and now Mr Sarkozy himself – insist that the bugging can only have been inspired by the Hollande administration as part of a “political persecution”.
In a 2,000 word open letter to the French people which led the pro-Sarkozy newspaper Le Figaro today, the former president said: “I learn in the press that all my telephones have been bugged for eight months. The police have every detail of my intimate conversations with my wife, children and friends…One can easily imagine who is reading the transcripts!”
“…This is not an extract from that marvellous film “The Lives of Others” on East Germany and the activities of the Stasi. This is not the actions of some dictator somewhere against his political opposition. This is France.”
Ministers have adamantly denied that they approved, or even knew of, the tapping of Mr Sarkozy’s phones but they have generated suspicion by making clumsy and contradictory statements about how much they did know and when. Mr Sarkozy listed and then dismissed these denial yesterday. “Who do they think they are kidding?” he asked.
A transcript of several of bugged calls leaked this week, appeared to confirm earlier reports that the ex-President tried last month to influence and obtain secret information on the inner workings of France’s highest appeal court, the Cour de Cassation.
In return, the transcripts implied, Mr Sarkozy promised to obtain a gilded retirement post in Monaco for one of the most senior judges in the court.
As a result, he now faces a possible prosecution for “influence peddling” and interference in the justice system.
In his article today. Mr Sarkozy dismissed this new allegation and all the other accusations against him. He said that the leaked transcripts had been deliberately edited to give the impression of wrong-doing where there was none.
On the allegation that President Muammar Gaddafi funded his successful 2007 presidential campaign, Mr Sarkozy said; “The war that we waged in Libya (in 2011) lasted 10 months,” he said. “If Gaddafi had the least documentary evidence against me, why didn’t he use it?”
In one intriguing passage, Mr Sarkozy appears to offer an informal deal to the government – call off the judges and I will not run again in 2017.
French political commentators insisted, however, that he was actually saying the opposite: that he would use the criminal investigation against him as an excuse to abandon his political retirement.
“For all those who fear my return,” Mr Sarkozy said in the last lines of his article, “let me assure them that the best way of avoidng it is to let me live my life, simply, quietly, just like any normal citizen.”