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CORRUPTION PROBE

Sarkozy prosecutors ‘spied on top Paris law firms’ in fresh eavesdropping row

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial for corruption in November 2020.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial for corruption in November 2020. AFP

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who will stand trial for corruption in November, has called for “the rule of law to be respected” after explosive media reports this week claimed prosecutors spied on lawyers from top Paris firms – while they tapped his own phone – in a failed bid to find out if a judiciary mole had been leaking information.

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A report in the Le Point weekly on Wednesday said the National Financial Prosecutor's Office had carried out a secret parallel investigation alongside its main corruption and influence-trading probe into Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog – whose phone was also tapped.

Sarkozy is facing charges of seeking to obtain, through Herzog, classified information from former judge Gilbert Azibert about another case in 2014 that has since been dismissed. In return, the judge was allegedly offered help in obtaining a post in Monaco.

Police wire taps on Sarkozy’s official phone line, as well as a second phone line he opened under the alias of "Paul Bismuth", were ruled legal in 2016. The second line was a pre-paid mobile phone card that Sarkozy allegedly used for the sole purpose of communicating with Herzog.

Inquiry conducted ‘in secret’ 

The fresh allegations concern a clandestine probe – lasting nearly six years – that reportedly sought to uncover the identity of a mole suspected to be feeding inside information to Sarkozy about the court proceedings against him. 

It was set up after the former president, under the Bismuth moniker, suddenly withdrew his support for Azibert on 25 February, 2014 – leading investigators to conclude that Sarkozy knew he was being tapped. 

Le Point alleges that prosecutors hacked the telephone bills of dozens of top Paris lawyers and tracked their laptops via geolocation – monitoring any contacts they made with judicial sources. All of the lawyers surveilled had either telephoned or or attempted to telephone Herzog on 25 February, 2014.

Nicolas Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, pictured in Paris on 22 March, 2018.
Nicolas Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, pictured in Paris on 22 March, 2018. AFP

The November trial will mark the first of several graft proceedings against Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012.

Sarkozy also faces accusations he accepted millions of euros towards his 2007 presidential campaign from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi. In addition, he is to stand trial for the alleged illicit financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

French Watergate’

This week’s revelations have been described as “France’s Watergate” by national assemby deputy Eric Ciotti, a fellow member of Sarkozy’s Les Republicans party, who told Le Point it was alarming that “politically motivated” spying activities usually seen in authoritarian countries were happening in France.

Set up by former Socialist president Francois Holland in 2013 to handle financial crimes, the National Financial Prosecutor's Office had crossed a line, Ciotti said, by hacking the phone records of prominent law firms and by systematically targeting political opponents on the right. 

French criminal defence lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, who was named in the Le Point report but is not otherwise linked to the Sarkozy cases, said he would file a complaint against the prosecutors for actions which he said posed a danger to France’s democracy.

He was among the lawyers who spoke to Herzog on 25 February – the day that prosecutors believe Sarkozy had been contacted by an informant from the judiciary. 

“I am amazed, flabbergasted that they could have delved into my private life, my intimate life, my professional life by hacking my phone records and my geolocation,” Dupond-Moretti told FranceInfo radio.

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