Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2017 comeback in jeopardy as fraud scandal forces opposition party leader Jean-François Copé to quit

A close aide has claimed the former President’s 2012 campaign accounts were falsified

Paris

Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential election campaign falsified accounts to allow it spend twice as much as its rivals, it was alleged on Tuesday.

The scandal has now come close to destroying the main centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), forcing the acrimonious resignation of its leader, Jean-François Copé, yesterday.

The allegations – confirmed in a tearful TV interview by the deputy head of Mr Sarkozy’s campaign – cast serious doubts on the former President’s chances of making a political come-back in 2017.

Candidates in the 2012 presidential election were allowed to spend a maximum of €22.5m (£18.24) under French electoral law. Mr Sarkozy’s campaign, it is now alleged, spent at least €33.5m – and maybe as much as €47.5m. Bills were faked to transfer the surplus spending to the UMP.

Following the victory of the far right in the European elections at the weekend, a whirlwind of events yesterday created a sense of national crisis – what one left-wing politician called an atmosphere of “fin de régime”.

Detectives raided the offices of the UMP, the main opposition party to President François Hollande’s Socialist Party. A senior party official and former aide to Mr Sarkozy, Jérome Lavrilleux, confessed on live TV to the faking of campaign accounts. The UMP narrowly avoided implosion by forcing the mass resignation of its leadership.

The Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, joyfully seized on the scandal to return to a favourite theme – the alleged selfishness and corruption of French mainstream politicians. She accused Mr Sarkozy of “stealing” his second-place finish in the first round of the 2012 elections. “This shows that  [he] betrayed democracy and betrayed the rules of our Republic,” Ms Le Pen said. “I want the French to know that Mr Sarkozy cheated.”

Friends of Mr Sarkozy insisted that any falsification of 2012 campaign spending accounts had been carried out without his knowledge. They said that he was “very unhappy” his name was being attached to the scandal.

Opposition politicians – and even some UMP sources – said that it was implausible that such a hyperactive man as Mr Sarkozy did not know that his campaign was overspending the €22.5m legal limit by such a wide margin.

Mr Lavrilleux, deputy head of Mr Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign, admitted tearfully in a TV interview on Monday that fake bills for many of Mr Sarkozy’s campaign events had been paid by the UMP. “It’s not possible to run a campaign on €22.5m,” he said.

At least €11m – and perhaps €25m – of extra campaign expenditure was “laundered” in this way, according to leaks from a criminal investigation into “forgery” and “abuse of confidence”.

Mr Sarkozy’s campaign was already found guilty in 2013 of exceeding the legal limit by around €1.6m. As a  result, the UMP was stripped of its public funding and had to launch a public appeal to avoid bankruptcy.

The new allegations are far more serious. They suggest the Sarkozy campaign knowingly exceeded the legal limit by at least 50 per cent and possibly more than 100 per cent.

Mr Sarkozy is already fighting allegations that his successful 2007 presidential campaign was illegally funded by the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. This is just one of a half-dozen allegations of wrong-doing by Mr Sarkozy being investigated by examining magistrates.

The former President insists that the allegations are false and have been drummed up his political enemies, especially by the government of the man who defeated him, President Hollande.

The latest scandal began last February with an allegation that Mr Copé had allowed the party to overspend on doubtful events organised by a company run by his friends. It later emerged that some of these events were fictitious.

At a meeting of the UMP political bureau yesterday, Mr Copé was forced to resign as its president from 15 June.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Chelsea are interested in loaning out Romelu Lukaku to Everton again next season
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series