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Sarkozy quits top French constitutional body over expenses scandal

AFP-JIJI

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday resigned from the country’s top constitutional body after it upheld a decision that he had breached official spending limits during his re-election campaign last year.

Following the decision, which threatened to throw the main opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) into further chaos as it reels from a leadership battle, Sarkozy said in a statement that he was resigning “immediately” from France’s Constitutional Council.

This was to “regain his freedom of speech” to react to the decision, which sees him lose out on a €10 million ($13 million) reimbursement. Former presidents are automatically appointed to the body.

The council, France’s top constitutional authority, said in a statement that it was confirming a decision by the electoral finance watchdog that Sarkozy had filed expenses of nearly €23 million ($30 million), which exceeded the spending ceiling by 2.1 percent.

Because of this, Sarkozy, who lost out to Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the presidential race, is ineligible for the reimbursement of 47.5 percent of total campaign spending he was due under election financing laws. Sarkozy will also need to return €150,000 ($195,000) advanced by the state for the campaign.

It is the first time a candidate reaching the second round of a presidential election has seen his campaign expenses rejected.

Sarkozy has been implicated in a series of campaign funding scandals allegedly involving Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest woman, and former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope called for a “massive national contribution” in the wake of Sarkozy’s resignation.