PARIS (Reuters) - France’s top appeals court dealt a blow to Nicolas Sarkozy’s hopes of a presidential comeback on Tuesday when it ruled that wiretaps of his conversations with his lawyer were admissible as evidence against him in a case involving alleged corruption.
The Court of Cassation rejected an appeal by the conservative former head of state against the legality of intercepts of two mobile phones rented for him under an alias after he left office.
That opens the way for him to stand trial for allegedly trying to bribe a justice official to leak information to him in another probe. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Tuesday’s ruling added to a cloud of legal woes hanging over the leader of the center-right Republicans party, making it harder for him to stand in a primary in November for the conservative nomination for next year’s presidential election.
Sarkozy was president from 2007 to 2012 but was defeated by Socialist Francois Hollande when he ran for re-election. He has since faced a series of investigations into alleged corruption, fraud, favoritism and campaign funding irregularities.
He was placed under investigation last month in a separate probe into severe breaches of the legal spending limits on his re-election campaign.
Sarkozy is trailing well behind ex-prime minister Alain Juppe in opinion polls ahead of the primary, with former agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire in third place. Sarkozy, who controls the party machine, has not yet said whether he will enter the contest.
Sarkozy’s lawyers had argued that magistrates who had been investigating alleged secret Libyan funding of his 2007 campaign exceeded their powers and went on a “fishing expedition” by tapping his conversations between September 2013 and March 2014, breaching lawyer-client privilege.
He used the mobile phone account under the alias “Paul Bismuth” only for calls with lawyer Thierry Herzog.
But the court said the magistrates had not exceeded their powers and the wiretaps were valid, with the exception of one of a conversation between Herzog and the head of the Paris bar.
Based on the intercepts, Sarkozy is accused of having discussed offering a promotion to a prosecutor in return for tip-offs on an investigation into accusations that his former party treasurer and others exploited the mental frailty of France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, to extract political donations in cash.
Investigations into Sarkozy and his former treasurer, Eric Woerth, were dropped without charges in the Bettencourt case.
Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by James Regan and Gareth Jones