Sarkozy aides, allies on trial in France for alleged polling fraud

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Five aides and allies of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy were set to go on trial on Monday for allegedly misusing public money and cronyism, adding to the former head of state’s legal problems.

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Sarkozy’s former chief of staff Claude Gueant and ex-advisor and consultant Patrick Buisson are among those charged over the attribution of multi-million-euro contracts for polling services.

Prosecutors say the contracts signed by Sarkozy’s staff during his 2007-2012 term in office were sealed in secret and without competition -- breaking French laws on public financing that require transparency and competitive bidding.

The accused, who face charges ranging from favoritism, to conspiracy and misusing public funds, also include ex-Sarkozy aides Emmanuelle Mignon and Julien Vaulpre, as well as former polling expert and consultant Pierre Giacometti.

The case illustrates “the way in which Nicolas Sarkozy governed, using the presidency and state resources for his personal interests, worrying foremost about his image and his re-election to the detriment of the law,” a lawyer for anti-corruption group Anticor, Jerome Karsenti, said ahead of the trial.

The accused deny the charges, while Sarkozy is not targeted directly and is not expected to testify.

In late September, a French court handed the right-winger a one-year prison sentence for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, seven months after he received a separate jail term for corruption.

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

He has promised to clear his name and has accused French prosecutors of a “witch hunt.”

The 66-year-old has also been charged over allegations that he received millions of euros for his 2007 election campaign from the late former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.

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