Sarkozy: France's 'bling-bling' ex-president dogged by legal woes

·4-min read
Nicolas Sarkozy, who was France's president from 2007 until 2012, has been dogged by legal cases since leaving office

Sarkozy: France's 'bling-bling' ex-president dogged by legal woes

Nicolas Sarkozy, who was France's president from 2007 until 2012, has been dogged by legal cases since leaving office

Nicolas Sarkozy, who governed France as a tough-talking rightwing president from 2007 to 2012, is a political animal who divides opinion: a "bling-bling" hoodlum for some, a populist genius for others.

He took a hard line on immigration, security and national identity during a presidency overshadowed by the 2008 financial crisis, and left office with the lowest popularity ratings of any previous post-war French leader.

But mention of his name still elicits enthusiastic applause at rightwing political meetings, and his books sell like hotcakes.

"I love my country," the 65-year-old told BFM television last week in an interview granted ahead of him going on trial for allegedly trying to bribe a judge for information on an ongoing investigation against him.

"Everything I did in my life was to be loved by the French," he said.

After his humiliating defeat in the 2012 presidential race to Socialist Francois Hollande -- making him the first president since Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981) to be denied a second term -- Sarkozy famously promised: "You won't hear about me anymore."

That prediction turned out to be premature.

His ongoing legal wranglings, and marriage to former top model Carla Bruni, have ensured the man known in France as "Sarko" remains very much in the public eye.

Few were surprised when he returned to frontline politics in 2014, winning the leadership of the conservative UMP party, since renamed Les Republicains (LR).

He made a fresh bid for the presidency in 2016, trying to bury the "bling-bling" image he gained for his love of the high-life, and casting himself as a defender of the down-and-outs against the elites.

Humiliatingly, Sarkozy didn't even make it past the LR party's primaries.

But despite the defeat, he has remained hugely popular on the right.

In 2013, a fund raiser dubbed "Sarkothon" allowed his party to raise 11 million euros ($13 million) in just two months to repay money a court found it had overspent on Sarkozy's 2012 campaign.

"I have a special link with the French. It may stretch, it may tighten, but it exists," the ex-president said at the time.

In search of a leader for the election of 2022, some in the LR have started looking at Sarkozy yet again, despite him telling BFM: "I have turned the page."

Just this week, however, it was reported that Sarkozy had remarked there was no "credible" candidate for the right to take on President Emmanuel Macron in less than two years' time, sparking speculation that he himself might seek the nomination.

"If there is the slightest opening, he will go for it," a party MP told AFP recently.

- Pugnacious -

Born on January 28, 1955, the football fanatic and cycling enthusiast is an atypical French politician.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant father, Sarkozy has a law degree, but unlike most of his peers did not attend the exclusive Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), the well-worn production line for future French leaders.

He has served in many roles: mayor, MP, minister, party leader and head of state, with the distinction of being adored by some with as much ardour as he is despised by others.

An energetic public speaker, Sarkozy has a pugnacious style seen as an asset by admirers but a liability by detractors who fault his apparent lack of self-control.

Few have forgotten his visit to the 2008 agriculture show in Paris -- a fixture on any top politician's calendar -- when he said "get lost, dumbass" to a man who refused to shake his hand.

After winning the presidency at age 52, Sarkozy was initially seen as injecting a much-needed dose of dynamism, making a splash on the international scene and wooing the corporate world.

He was also the first French president to divorce, remarry and have a child -- his fourth -- while in office.

Then in July 2014, he became the first former head of state to be taken into police custody for questioning which led to charges for corruption, influence peddling and violation of legal secrecy, on which is to stand trial from Monday.

He also faces a separate trial over alleged campaign finance violations.

Sarkozy denies the allegations and has accused the judiciary of hounding him.