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France’s ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy should stand trial for breaching campaign spending limits, the French prosecutor’s office has recommended.

The announcement follows a long investigation into claims that Nicolas Sarkozy’s then-UMP party falsified accounts in order to hide 18 million euros ($20 million) of spending in 2012.

Nicolas Sarkozy lost the 2012 race to Francois Hollande, but is hoping to run again in 2017 election.

The former president said he left it to subordinates to raise campaign funds.

Nicolas Sarkozy is to be investigated over accusations of a breach of secrecy in alleged corruption case Karachi affair

Nicolas Sarkozy is to be investigated over accusations of a breach of secrecy in alleged corruption case Karachi affair

The advice from the prosecutor’s office in Paris is not definitive – an investigating magistrate will now make a final decision over whether Nicolas Sarkozy should stand trial.

The prosecutor says that, as the candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy was ultimately responsible for his own campaign – and in any case there is also considerable evidence he was warned at the time of the risks of over-spending.

To become nominee for The Republicans, the party he renamed from the UMP, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to defeat ex-prime minister and mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppe, whom he trails in opinion polls.

The affair is known as the Bygmalion scandal. It centers on claims that Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, then known as the UMP, connived with a friendly PR company to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign.

France sets limits on campaign spending, and it is alleged Bygmalion invoiced Nicolas Sarkozy’s party rather than the campaign, allowing the UMP to exceed the limit.

Bygmalion employees have admitted knowledge of the ruse and several UMP members already face charges.

However, Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly denied that he was aware of the overspending.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s Conservative UMP Party and its allies appear to have come first in the final round of French local elections.

The UMP appeared set to secure more than 60 local councils, exit polls suggested, up from 41.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front also appeared to have made gains, while the ruling Socialists and their allies may lose about 30 departments.

These elections are seen as a test case ahead of 2017’s presidential election.

Paris and Lyon, France’s two biggest cities, were excluded from Sunday’s election.

The National Front appeared to have won a significant number of seats in Sunday’s second round of elections, but it was not clear if it had gained control of any councils, the exit polls said.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Marine Le Pen hailed a “historic” day for the FN, saying: “I thank all our voters for this magnificent success.”

PM Manuel Valls admitted that the Socialist Party had lost ground, and said that the rise in the National Front’s popularity showed a lasting change in France’s political landscape.

He vowed to redouble efforts to boost the economy.

Nicolas Sarkozy said voters had rejected the policies of his successor as president, Francois Hollande.

“Never has our political family won so many councils,” he told supporters.

Francois Hollande has suffered from slumping personal ratings, boosted only briefly by his response to January’s terror attacks in Paris.

French voters have been electing representatives in 101 departments, or counties, charged with issues like schools and welfare.

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Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and its allies have taken first place in the first round of French local elections, partial results show.

Projections suggest that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) – despite strong gains – came second with about 25% of the vote, behind the conservatives on about 30%.

President Francois Hollande’s governing Socialists came third with 21%.

Voters are electing representatives in 101 departments, or counties, charged with issues like schools and welfare.

The results mean the second round on March 29 will see a run-off between the UMP and the FN in many constituencies.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy said outcome of the elections demonstrated “the French people’s profound desire for change”.

“The conditions for a massive swing back to the right and the centre are in place,” he added.

Nicolas Sarkozy also ruled out any “local or national” deals with the FN in constituencies where one of the two parties was involved in run-offs with the Socialists.

In the past, voters for rival parties have rallied against the far right group in the second round of voting.

The poor results for the Socialists follows on from their defeats in municipal and EU elections last year.

Some polls ahead of the vote had indicated that Marine Le Pen’s FN could come top in the first round.

Marine Le Pen had been hoping the elections would build momentum ahead of her expected bid for the presidency in 2017.

Socialist PM Manuel Valls welcomed the news that the FN had scored less that some had predicted, saying the results showed it was not the strongest force in French politics.

However, Marine Le Pen called for Manuel Valls to resign, celebrating what she said was a “massive vote” for her party, exceeding its performance in the European Parliament elections.

For the first time, voters in these elections are not choosing single candidates – but pairs of candidates – one man and one woman – in order to enforce strict gender equality in local politics.

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Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his return to French politics.

On his Facebook page, the former French president said he would seek the leadership of the opposition UMP party, widely seen as a first step towards a presidential bid in 2017.

Nicolas Sarkozy, 59, wrote: “I am a candidate to be president of my political family.”

The statement ends months of speculation about the intentions of Nicolas Sarkozy, who vowed to give up politics after he failed to be re-elected as president in 2012.

The UMP party elections are due to be held in November.

“After a lengthy period of reflection, I have decided to offer the French people a new political choice,” Nicolas Sarkozy wrote.

Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his return to French politics

Nicolas Sarkozy has announced his return to French politics (photo Facebook)

He said he could not “remain a spectator given the situation in which France finds itself, given the destruction of political debate and the persistence of the derisory splits within the opposition”.

Nicolas Sarkozy has many supporters who believe his energy are essential to pull France out of its current difficulties.

However, Nicolas Sarkozy remains a divisive figure. He was defeated by Francois Hollande in the 2012 election, becoming the first French president not to be re-elected for a second term since 1981.

Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest President Francois Hollande has now become the most unpopular French president in modern times.

Although Nicolas Sarkozy has kept a low profile since leaving office, he has faced a series of legal investigations that involve him in some capacity.

In July, he was placed under formal investigation on suspicion of seeking to influence judges who were looking into his affairs.

Other inquiries include one into Nicolas Sarkozy’s links with former Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and another into illegal campaign funding in 2012. He denies any wrongdoing.

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The French conservative UMP party has chosen Jean-Francois Cope as its next leader after a tight election marred by claims of fraud and ballot-stuffing.

Jean-Francois Cope, an ally of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, won 50.03% of the vote, defeating ex-PM Francois Fillon, who polled 49.97%, by just 98 votes.

The final result was delayed for more than 24 hours.

Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP secretary general, is on the right of the party, while Francois Fillon is seen as more of a centrist.

Party grandees had urged the two candidates to end their war of words, warning that the UMP had been damaged.

Jean-Francois Cope, 48, said he had telephoned Francois Fillon, 58, to ask him to join him at the heart of the UMP “because our opponents are on the left”.

“My hands and my arms are wide open,” he told supporters after the result was announced.

“It is in that state of mind that I telephoned Francois Fillon this evening, it is in that state of mind that I asked him to join me.”

Francois Fillon, speaking after his rival’s victory speech, mentioned “many irregularities” in the electoral process but stopped short of rejecting the result.

He also warned of a deepening split in the UMP.

“What strikes me is the rift at the heart of our political camp, a political and moral fracture,” he said.

The French conservative UMP party has chosen Jean-Francois Cope as its next leader after a tight election marred by claims of fraud and ballot-stuffing

The French conservative UMP party has chosen Jean-Francois Cope as its next leader after a tight election marred by claims of fraud and ballot-stuffing

Opinion polls had consistently given Francois Fillon the edge, but initial results on Sunday showed a narrow lead for Jean-Francois Cope.

The UMP held the presidency of France for 17 years, until May, when Socialist candidate Francois Hollande defeated Nicolas Sarkozy’s bid for a second term.

The two candidates have different visions for the party.

Jean-Francois Cope is considered more right-wing. Last month he produced “A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right” in which he claimed that gangs in the city suburbs were fostering “anti-white racism”.

Francois Fillon is seen as sober and more restrained.

The winner will inherit a party in difficult financial straits, after a series of electoral setbacks over the past five years, culminating in Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential defeat to Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

Jean-Francois Cope

  • Secretary-general of the UMP since November 2010
  • Aged 48 – born 5 May 1964 in Paris to Jewish parents of Romanian and Algerian origin
  • Divorced father-of-four

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