France's Sarkozy questioned over illegal campaign fund claims

Policemen guard a Bordeaux courthouse where former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is due to appear.

Story highlights

  • Former President Nicolas Sarkozy questioned over funding for his 2007 campaign
  • L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt is suspected of illegally helping him
  • Bettencourt, 90, is France's richest woman
  • Sarkozy's former labor minister Eric Woerth and others have also faced scrutiny

Nicolas Sarkozy may be breathing a bit easier after authorities on Thursday decided not to pursue a formal investigation against the former French president, but rather to treat him as what officials described as a "witness-under-caution."

The phrase is a technical term that essentially allows a French magistrate to continue to call the former leader to the witness stand in the case over whether L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt and her staff illegally helped him during his 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy still faces the possibility of criminal charges stemming from allegedly illicit campaign donations.

Read more: Attorney: Sarkozy's home, offices raided

Judge Jean-Michel Gentil questioned the former French leader on Thursday for 12 hours concerning evidence given by 90-year-old Bettencourt's former accountant, Claire Thibout, CNN affiliate BFM-TV reports.

Nicolas Sarkozy concedes election
Nicolas Sarkozy concedes election


    Nicolas Sarkozy concedes election


Nicolas Sarkozy concedes election 09:21

The Bettencourt scandal has fascinated France since questions about the finances of France's richest woman emerged last year amid a family feud.

Read more: Why Sarko lost: Personality or policy?

Among the matters probed by investigators were allegations that secret, possibly illegal payments were made to French politicians, including Sarkozy; Eric Woerth, his former labor minister; and members of his party, the Union for a Popular Movement, known as UMP.

Sarkozy lost the diplomatic immunity he held as president when he failed in his re-election bid in May.

      CNN Recommends

    • pkg clancy north korea nuclear dreams_00002004.jpg

      North Korea nuclear dream video

      As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
    • Photos: Faces of the world

      Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
    • pkg rivers uk football match fixing_00005026.jpg

      How to fix a soccer match

      Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
    • No Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberties, Mt. Rushmores, Taj Mahals, Aussie koalas or Chairman Maos.

      15 biggest souvenir-buying no-no's

      It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.