Nicolas Sarkozy has appeared in court as the first former French president to be ordered to testify as a witness – but refused point blank to answer any questions.
“It is an essential principle of democracies known as the separation of powers, and as president of the Republic I do not have to account for the organisation of my office or the way in which I exercised my mandate,” he told the court in Paris on Tuesday.
France’s president from 2007 to 2012 told the court that the order, which the judge said was necessary “to determine the truth” since Sarkozy had probably “influenced the acts of which the defendants are accused”, was “entirely anti-constitutional”.
Sarkozy said he was accountable “to the French people, not to a court”. He has not been charged or interrogated in the case, in which five of his former aides and allies are accused of misusing public funds on polling contracts.
The former head of state had said earlier he would refuse to testify in the trial, but told the court he had reconsidered because he “respected and have always respected” the judicial system, even if he considered the order to testify “totally disproportionate”.
Sarkozy then exercised his right not to answer a lengthy series of questions from the judge and a lawyer for Anticor, the anti-corruption association that brought the case. Both the public prosecutor and the defence team declined to ask him anything.
Five aides and allies of Sarkozy, including his former chief of staff Claude Guéant and ex-adviser and consultant Patrick Buisson, have been on trial since 18 October accused of favouritism, conspiracy and misuse of public funds.
Prosecutors say the polling contracts, worth €7.5m (£6.4m), signed by the five during Sarkozy’s term in office were negotiated in secret and without competition, breaking French laws on transparency and competitive bidding in public contracts.
Sarkozy, 66, no longer has immunity from legal prosecution and is embroiled in several cases. In September, a judge handed him a one-year prison sentence over the illegal financing of his failed 2012 re-election bid.
In March, he was convicted of “corruption and influence peddling” and given a three-year prison sentence, two years suspended, for trying to bribe a senior judge in one of several legal cases involving him. He is appealing against both verdicts.
In October last year, he was placed under formal investigation on an accusation of “criminal association” over allegations the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi helped finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign to the tune of up to €50m.
He was cleared of involvement in another 2007 campaign financing scandal involving allies from his UMP party who were accused of accepting illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt in cash-filled envelopes.