French campaign funding scandal snares Sarkozy ally

 A judicial enquiry into Nicolas Sarkozy`s 2012 presidential campaign Thursday snared a close ally of the former French president, who announced a triumphant return to front-line politics only last month.

AFP| Updated: Oct 02, 2014, 12:57 PM IST

Paris: A judicial enquiry into Nicolas Sarkozy`s 2012 presidential campaign Thursday snared a close ally of the former French president, who announced a triumphant return to front-line politics only last month.

Police detained three former top officials of the conservative opposition UMP party in connection with the so-called Bygmalion scandal, which centres around allegedly fake invoices for Sarkozy`s campaign.

Those detained included Eric Cesari, a close Sarkozy aide described as the "eyes" of the former president and the ex-financial director of the UMP party, according to a source close to the investigation.

PR firm Bygmalion is accused of falsifying invoices for staging Sarkozy events, billing the conservative UMP party instead of the former president`s campaign.

The alleged fraud was supposedly carried out to circumvent strict campaign funding rules.

On Wednesday, three former Bygmalion directors were charged -- the first charges to be pressed in the case.

According to a source close to the inquiry, the UMP picked up the tab for around 18.5 million euros ($23.3 million) in expenses that should have been billed to the Sarkozy campaign.

Spending on presidential campaigns in France is limited to 22.5 million euros.

Sarkozy has always denied any wrongdoing in the affair. But he is also embroiled in a series of other legal tangles that threaten to hamper his comeback in French politics.

One of the roles of the inquiry will be to determine who was in the loop within the campaign.