Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French President, may be landed with a multimillion-euro personal bill unless his centre-right political party finds a way to plug a gaping hole in its finances within three weeks.
The political bureau of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) met on Monday to discuss the grave crisis caused by the rejection of Mr Sarkozy’s expenses for the presidential election campaign last year on the grounds that the party had breached spending limits.
The decision last week by the highest constitutional authority, Le Conseil Constitutionnel, deprives the UMP of €11m (£9.5m) of taxpayers’ money to cover nearly half the cost of Mr Sarkozy’s campaign for re-election. The Conseil Constitutionnel – of which Mr Sarkozy was a member – upheld a decision by a campaign watchdog last year that the Sarkozy campaign had exceeded spending limits and had presented misleading accounts.
In his first party political action since he “retired” after his defeat in May last year, Mr Sarkozy attended Monday night’s emergency meeting of more than 500 senior UMP officials from all over France.
Mr Sarkozy was greeted like a conquering hero at the UMP meeting last night, despite the difficulties into which he had plunged the party. He rejected suggestions that his appearance was a political comeback. “When I take up political speaking once again, it will be to talk to the French people,” he said. “Not to talk about me or about us but about them”. In expectation that 47 per cent of its campaign spending would be refunded by the state, the UMP took out an €11m bank loan last year which has to be repaid by the end of this month. It has emerged that the main personal guarantor of this loan was Mr Sarkozy himself.
The party has appealed for emergency donations from supporters and has already raised €1m. There are strict legal limits, however, on how much individuals or companies can contribute to political campaigns, even a year after the event.
If the UMP fails to raise the other €10m in the next three weeks, the party could be pushed into bankruptcy and the bank could ask Mr Sarkozy to repay the loan.
It remains unclear whether Mr Sarkozy has the means to pay if asked. The UMP president Jean-François Copé said on Monday that he hoped to negotiate a “roll-over” of the loan.
Mr Sarkozy is not an especially wealthy man but his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has a considerable fortune from her Italian family and her career as a top model and pop singer.