France's Sarkozy must testify in polling fraud trial: judge

Paris (AFP) –


Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will have to testify in a trial in which his former aides are accused of misusing public funds on polling contracts, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Sarkozy, who benefits from presidential immunity in the case, had said he would not appear as a witness in the case after being tried and convicted twice this year in separate affairs.

But the judge said Sarkozy's testimony was "necessary to determine the truth" over the opinion polls commissioned when he was president and ordered him to appear on November 2.

Representatives for Sarkozy said they did not intend to comment "at this stage".

The accused are five former aides and allies of the right-winger who led France between 2007 and 2012. They face charges ranging from favouritism to conspiracy and misuse of public money over the awarding of polling contracts worth a combined 7.5 million euros ($8.7 million).

They include Sarkozy's former chief of staff Claude Gueant as well as Patrick Buisson, a former advisor and a leading consultant for rightwing politicians.

Prosecutors say the contracts were often signed directly with institutes such as Ipsos, breaking French laws on public financing that require transparent and competitive bidding processes.

Critics accused Sarkozy of being "addicted" to opinion polls during his 2007-2012 term, on issues that ranged from his own popularity and policies to public perceptions of Carla Bruni, the singer and former top model he married while in office.

The order to testify marks the latest skirmish between the former president and the French judiciary.

In late September, a French court handed Sarkozy a one-year prison sentence for illegal financing of his failed 2012 re-election bid.

The ruling came seven months after he received a separate jail term for corruption.

He is appealing both sentences, and is not expected to serve time behind bars, with the courts ruling that he can wear an electronic bracelet instead.

The 66-year-old has also been charged over suspicions he received millions of euros for his 2007 election campaign from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.