Sarkozy under formal investigation over illegal donations claim

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation yesterday over claims of having received illegal donations from the wealthiest woman in the country, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, now aged 90, for financing his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

French media reported that preliminary charges had been pressed against the former president for abusing "someone in an impaired state" after he was summoned to judge Jean-Michel Gentil's office in the city of Bordeaux earlier yesterday. The former president's lawyers have since said that they would  appeal against the decision.

Preliminary charges imply that the magistrates had reason to believe that the defendant had been involved in some wrongdoing. Although preliminary charges fall short of formal charges, they allow investigatiors more time to decide whether the defendant should face trial.

Sarkozy is suspected to have taken tens of thousands of euros in illegal donations from Bettencourt when the mental condition of the billionaire heiress was fragile. The cosmetics heiress was 87-years-old when Sarkozy is said to have received the alleged illegal donations from her.

French laws prohibit individual donations for election campaigns over €4,600 ($5,800). According to Claire Thibout, Bettencourt's former accountant. Sarkozy's aides had been given €150,000 in cash by the aged L'Oreal heiress for his 2007 election campaign.

Sarkozy's home and offices were raided by the French police as part of an inquiry last July following loss of his immunity.

The former president has repeatedly denied having taken campaign funds from the L'Oreal heiress who was declared in a state of dementia back in 2006.

According to AFP news agency, Sarkozy's lawyer said he would file an appeal against the "incoherent and unfair decision.''

The former president had hinted earlier that he was considering running for presidency in 2017. According to observers, his return to politics could now rest on the outcome of the investigation.

In November, Sarkozy had been declared a material witness, meaning he was a suspect but had not been charged formally.

According to BBC's correspondet, Sarkozy met  Bettencourt when he was mayor of the wealthiest suburb in Paris and had developed a close frienship with her over the years.