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Sarkozy faces charges in French corruption probe

Members of the media stand in front of the entrance to the anti-corruption office of the French police, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 in Nanterre, near Paris. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been detained and was reportedly being questioned by financial investigators Tuesday in a corruption probe that is rattling France
Members of the media stand in front of the entrance to the anti-corruption office of the French police, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 in Nanterre, near Paris. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been detained and was reportedly being questioned by financial investigators Tuesday in a corruption probe that is rattling France's conservative political establishment. A judicial official said Sarkozy was in custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
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By The Associated Press

PARIS - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his lawyer and a magistrate are facing preliminary charges in a corruption investigation linked to allegations that he took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, after a night of questioning by judicial officials.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the judicial investigation is being carried out independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in elections in 2012.

"This situation is serious, the facts are serious," Valls told BFM television Wednesday. "The indictment concerns magistrates — high level magistrates — a lawyer, a former president of France. But as head of the government, I'm asking that we recall the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work serenely. No one is above the law, is the second principle. And thirdly, and it is important to remind it, there is the presumption of innocence which applies to everybody."

Lawyers for Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy's attorney, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, said the men were handed preliminary charges of influence trafficking. The French daily Le Monde says the questioning centres around whether Sarkozy and his lawyer were kept informed about the investigation into the Libyan allegations by Azibert in exchange for promises of a post in Monaco.

Azibert did not receive a job in Monaco.

Sarkozy has vigorously denied wrongdoing.

After further investigation, judges will determine whether to bring the case to trial.

Suspicions are based at least in part on taped phone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.

Herzog's lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins, sharply criticized the decision to take the men into custody for questioning, which lasted into the early hours of Wednesday.

"None of these men is going to flee, they are not going to ignore a summons," Iweins told France Info. "The only reason to detain them is to apply psychological pressure."

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