Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into police custody for questioning as part of an inquiry into alleged abuse of power.
The unprecedented step followed the arrest of Sarkozy's lawyer and two magistrates who are under investigation for allegedly using their influence to obtain information about legal cases against him.
Detectives are trying to establish whether the former leader promised a top-level job in Monaco to a magistrate in return for letting him know whether corruption allegations against him would go to court. Sarkozy denies any wrong-doing.
The police move on Tuesday represents a blow to Sarkozy's hopes of making a political comeback in 2017. The former president is said to have been hoping to profit from the disarray and lack of leadership in his centre-right UMP party, which is itself also mired in legal investigations, to stand for president again.
It is alleged that information obtained from tapping the former leader's phone conversations with his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, a controversial and unusual step, suggested there had been what was referred to as a "traffic of influence".
Police were listening in to Sarkozy's calls as part of a separate investigation into claims he accepted illegal donations from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 presidential election campaign. Sarkozy served one term in office before being beaten by the Socialist candidate François Holland in 2012.
When he discovered his phone was tapped, Sarkozy allegedly obtained another phone under the pseudonym Paul Bismuth, to talk to his lawyer.
In the taped conversations, detectives allegedly heard information that Herzog had been tipped off by a magistrate about a legal decision over yet another police investigation into whether or not Sarkozy also accepted illegal campaign funds from France's richest woman, the L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
Police raids on the lawyer and magistrate's homes suggested they had tried to obtain information about the legal case against Sarkozy.
Investigators have not said if Sarkozy, who was told he was being held for questioning after he arrived at the police station at Nanterre in the Paris suburbs, is being questioned as a witness or a suspect.
It is believed to be the first time a former president has been held in police custody, although Sarkozy is not the first to face the law. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of embezzlement and breach of trust while he was mayor of Paris in 2011 and given a suspended prison sentence.
Investigators can hold Sarkozy for 24 hours which can be extended for another day on the orders of a judge. After that he must be either released or formally put under investigation.
France's Socialist employment minister, François Rebsamen, told France Culture radio on Tuesday: "We're used to surprises with Nicolas Sarkozy."
Rebsamen added: "There's a legal inquiry and I'll wait for its conclusions. Having said that, in terms of financial matters, this period was marked with a lack of respect for the rules and by excesses that are now before the judges." http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-fra...e-nanterre.php http://www.theguardian.com/world/201...ged-corruption