Sarkozy camp fumbles response to graft charges

French Prez`s allies came out fighting as a graft scandal threatened to derail his re-election bid.

Paris: President Nicolas Sarkozy`s allies
on Friday came out fighting as a graft scandal threatened to
derail his re-election bid, but their panicked response drew
more fire from his opponents.

This week two of Sarkozy`s closest associates, including
the best man at his 2008 wedding, were arrested and charged by
police investigating alleged kickbacks on an arms deal and
illegal campaign finance contributions.

The money was allegedly kicked back to former prime
minister Edouard Balladur`s failed 1995 presidential campaign
by middlemen in a contract to supply French submarines to

Sarkozy was the campaign`s spokesman at the time of the
alleged payments, but angrily insists he had nothing to do
with funding. Government stalwarts leapt to his defence, but
the response has been muddled.

"It`s a plot against the president of the republic,"
declared centre-right lawmaker Axel Poniatowski, following the
lead of many of Sarkozy`s followers in painting the
allegations as a political conspiracy.

But the sudden advance in the long-running investigation
appears to have more to do with the royal marital troubles of
one of Sarkozy`s allies, his 60-year-old former communications
adviser Thierry Gaubert.

Gaubert is married to Princess Helene of Yugoslavia but
separated from her and she has reportedly told investigators
that her husband often travelled to Switzerland with an arms
dealer to pick up suitcases full of cash.

Gaubert was charged on Wednesday, but not before
Sarkozy`s political adviser and former interior minister Brice
Hortefeux called him to warn him.


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