Eric S. Margolis : FORMER FRENCH president Nicholas Sarkozy’s dramatic criminal interrogation last week shows once again that the politics of the French Republic remain waist-deep in sewage. Sarkozy was picked up from his Paris home and whisked off to a police and judicial center in the outskirts of the capital. He was subjected to 15 hours of intensive questioning, then taken to be arraigned (‘mis en examen’) for possible corruption and perversion of justice. “Grotesque” claimed Sarkozy the next day, insisting he was being humiliated and persecuted by leftwing political enemies in the judiciary. He may have been right. Such Stasi-like treatment of a former president was unprecedented and unnecessary. Sarkozy’s phone had been tapped by magistrates for over a year. What was going on? The former president is accused of improperly using his influence by offering favours to two senior magistrates to find out details in an explosive 2007 case of illegal campaign financing. The late Col. Muammar Gadaffi claimed before his murder by French-linked insurgents that he had secretly given Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign $68 million. Dead men tell no tales. This case, now under intense investigation, could blow up and wreck what had until now appeared Sarkozy’s likely re-election in 2017. He remains the most popular candidate of the center-right while the current French Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is so miserably unpopular he couldn’t get elected as a dogcatcher. Hollande’s popularity rating is 16 per cent and falling. As I watched Sarkozy being carted off by the police, I wondered, could this be payback by the left for the honey-trap that ended the career of its leading luminary, Dominique Strauss-Kahn? The former International Monetary Fund director and Socialist bigwig, the notoriously oversexed Strauss-Kahn, was charged with attempting to rape an African maid in a French-owned New York hotel. The case smelled of a frame-up concocted by Strauss-Kahn’s enemies on the right, probably with help from an intelligence service. Strauss-Kahn was arrested, humiliated, and jailed. After a lurid trial, he finally beat the rap, but not before his political reputation was ruined. But for this tawdry case, Strauss-Kahn would likely have been elected president of France in 2012, sparing the republic the unloved Hollande. Many French suspected Sarkozy was behind the plot against Strauss-Kahn. Sarko has been up to his ears in scandal for a decade. He was recently acquitted of “abuse of the elderly” after being charged with taking envelopes of cash from France’s richest woman, the senile l’Oreal heiress, Lillian Betancourt. Another nasty case hounds Sarkozy involving kickbacks on a major submarine contract to Pakistan in which a number of French technicians were killed – allegedly after bribes to Pakistani politicians went unpaid. While Sarkozy is still popular on the right, there is little personal sympathy for him. In the waspish words of Britain’s Francophobe Daily Mail, Sarko is a “French peacock married to a super model (Carla Bruni) who lives like a king.” Indeed, the Sarkozys have castles, magnificent country estates and yachting trips. Their jet-setting and love of gaudy excess has given Sarko the sobriquet, “president Bling.” The short, hyperactive, half Jewish, 5’5″ Sarko is hardly the traditionally elegant, regal French president French admire. Napoleon was even taller. France’s problem with political sleaze stems in good part because its overly restrictive campaign laws cause presidential candidates to solicit “black” funds, then conceal them. In the past, the French government oil company Total was a favourite piggy bank for politicians. So, too, the dictators of former French West Africa. At French election time, they were expected to deliver bags of cash to the French candidates in exchange for future favours or carte blanche from human rights problems. All of this financial and political sleaze was shrugged off by most French – at least until now. The French media kept most of the scandals under wraps. In Britain, they would have been front-page screamer headlines. The brusque way Sarko was handled was wrong. But the crimes of which he and his cronies are accused are extremely grave, defiling the honour of France and its republican governments. They must be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. Not a day too soon as the Fifth Republic crumbles.