October 7, 2015 / 1:10 PM / in 2 years

French prosecutor seeks suspended jail term for long-time Sarkozy aide

Former French Minister Claude Gueant leaves the court after a suspension in his trial in Paris, France, September 28, 2015.Jacky Naegelen

PARIS (Reuters) - A public prosecutor demanded on Wednesday that Nicolas Sarkozy's top aide before and after he became French president be handed a suspended jail sentence and fined for pocketing money from a cash fund used for police investigations.

Claude Gueant, chief of staff to Sarkozy when the latter was interior minister and when he became president, risks as much as 10 years in jail and a maximum 150,000 euro ($170,000) fine in an embezzlement trial that opened last month.

While stopping short of seeking a maximum sentence, public prosecutor Patrice Amar said Gueant, who was at the time (2002-04) cabinet chief to then interior minister Sarkozy, had personally benefited from the vanished funds, and should be fined 75,000 euros and given a 30-month suspended jail sentence.

"In this affair, Claude Gueant played the lead role, the driving role," Amar told the court. The public prosecution says he received around 5,000 euros of siphoned funds per month and spent 48,062 euros on kitchenware, other household equipment and antiques.

Gueant, 70, has not denied tapping into a special cash fund that was supposed to be for police work, but said he did not consider the acts illegal.

"I continue to believe that there was nothing untoward about what was done," he told the court. "But if the clock was wound back I would not likely do it again given all the grief it has caused."

Gueant, who never held an elected post, became Sarkozy's chief of staff when the latter was elected president in 2007 and became interior minister himself under Sarkozy in 2011.

The court is expected to rule at a later date on the case.

Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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