Wife of ex-French president Sarkozy suspect in witness tampering case

Carla Bruni Sarkozy. [AFP]

Singer and model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was on Thursday questioned as a suspect in a witness tampering case against her husband, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, two sources said.

Sarkozy, 69, was charged in October 2023 for illegal witness tampering in a case linked to allegations that he took money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to fund one of his election campaigns.

Investigators suspect that several people close to Sarkozy were involved in pressuring a key witness in that case to retract a statement he made incriminating the former president.

Questioned as a witness in June last year, Franco-Italian Bruni-Sarkozy, 56, is now a suspect and was interviewed for nearly three hours on Thursday by France's anti-corruption unit, the source close to the case and a judicial source told AFP.

An investigation showed Bruni-Sarkozy deleted all messages exchanged with French "paparazzi queen" Michele Marchand on the day she was charged with witness tampering in June 2021.

AFP contacted her lawyers who confirmed authorities questioned Bruni-Sarkozy during a three-hour hearing.

"She was able to provide all the necessary clarifications and explanations", they added.

Magistrates have not yet decided whether to charge Bruni-Sarkozy, said the judicial source.

'Desire to conceal'

Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine had claimed he delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($5.3 million at current rates) in cash to Sarkozy's chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.

But in 2020, Takieddine suddenly retracted his incriminating statement, raising suspicions that Sarkozy may have put pressure on the witness to change his mind.

Authorities took an interest in Bruni-Sarkozy when Marchand justified her trips to the Sarkozy home as social calls with the singer.

The lead judge in the case is investigating Bruni Sarkozy's possible "desire to conceal" her exchanges with Marchand, the source close to the case said.

Bruni-Sarkozy is also suspected of having helped Marchand and paparazzo Sebastien Valiela obtain Covid tests in October 2020 to allow them to travel to Lebanon for an interview with Takieddine in which he retracted his claims.

When asked about the messages Bruni-Sarkozy deleted, the former president stressed that he kept his own.

"If it was a strategic decision or a cover-up, one might ask why her and not me," Sarkozy said.

"My wife has nothing to do with it," he added.

'Not a cent'

Concerns over witness tampering arose after Takieddine made a spectacular about-face in November 2020, telling the Paris Match magazine that Sarkozy "had not received a cent... for the 2007 presidential election" from the late Libyan dictator.

He spoke from Lebanon, after fleeing there to escape conviction in the so-called "Karachi affair" -- a probe into alleged kickbacks to two former Sarkozy aides when the former French president was budget minister.

There are now 11 defendants in the witness tampering case, including Bruni-Sarkozy, suspected of attempting to mislead the French justice system.

In addition to Sarkozy and Marchand, the accused also include intermediary Noel Dubus, already convicted of fraud and powerful entrepreneur David Layani.

Sarkozy is set to stand trial in early 2025 over the allegations that he conspired to take cash from the Libyan leader to illegally fund his subsequently victorious 2007 bid to become French president.

The right-winger, who ran France from 2007 to 2012, has faced a litany of legal woes since leaving office.

In February, a Paris appeals court sentenced Sarkozy to six months of jail time to be served under house arrest for hiding the true cost of his failed 2012 re-election bid.

Last year, a court ruled he should spend one year in detention at home with an electronic bracelet due to his attempts to secure favours from a judge.

He is taking both cases to the country's highest court.