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French prosecutor requests criminal trial for Sarkozy

PARIS — A French prosecutor has requested that former President Nicolas Sarkozy — now vigorously campaigning for a second term — be sent to trial over suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday it has asked investigating judges to send Sarkozy and 13 others to court in the criminal case. It’s now up to the judges to decide whether Sarkozy must stand trial.

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Two weeks ago, the conservative leader made headlines when he announced his decision to be a candidate in the 2017 presidential election in a book that immediately became a best-seller in France.

Legally, nothing prevents him from seeking office. He faces a primary in November against an array of other conservative candidates.

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His name has surfaced in several legal cases in recent years, yet Sarkozy still enjoys high popularity among right-wing voters and is widely considered by political experts as a one of the few serious contenders for the presidency.

Recent polls show his main competitor in the conservative party, former prime minister Alain Juppe, is still the favorite of the primary but Sarkozy, in second place, is getting closer.

Juppe said Monday he won’t comment on Sarkozy’s case. “I want to refrain myself from making personal attacks,’’ Juppe said.

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Juppe was convicted in 2004 of having taken illegal advantage of public funds — for the benefit of his party — while he was head of the conservative party in the 1990s. He served a 14-month suspended jail sentence and was deprived of the right to run for political office for one year.

Another conservative competitor, Sarkozy’s former prime minister Francois Fillon, criticized Sarkozy’s situation in a speech a few days ago.

‘‘Those who don’t respect the laws of the Republic should not be allowed to run,’’ Fillon said. “There’s no point in talking about authority when one’s not beyond reproach. Who can imagine for a moment General de Gaulle being under criminal investigation?’’

Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denounced the prosecutor’s request as ‘‘gross political maneuvering.’’ He noted that the move falls on the day the trial opened for Jerome Cahuzac, a former budget minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande, who was forced to resign and charged with hiding part of his wealth in overseas tax havens.

Cahuzac is accused of hiding at least $766,000 from 2003 to 2012, while at the same time leading the government’s fight against tax evasion.

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