French judges want ex-president Sarkozy to testify in kickbacks probe

PARIS (AFP) - Judges investigating alleged kickbacks from French arms sales want ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy to testify before a special court, a lawyer representing civil parties in the case said on Friday.

Mr Olivier Morice told AFP that investigating magistrates in the "Karachi Affair" want the Cour de Justice de la Republique (CJR), which hears cases of ministerial misconduct, to take up the case.

They also want the CJR to summon Mr Sarkozy, who was budget minister in 1994 when the sale took place, as an "assisted witness" - a status that implies he could face charges.

French investigators suspect a web of corruption behind the 1994 sale of submarines to Pakistan and frigates to Saudi Arabia, with illegal funds going to fund former prime minister Edouard Balladur's 1995 presidential bid.

The probe is focusing on Balladur and then-defence minister Francois Leotard but threatens to drag in Mr Sarkozy, who lost the presidency to Francois Hollande in 2012 but has hinted at a comeback.

In more serious but harder to prove allegations, magistrates are also probing whether a 2002 Karachi bombing that killed 11 French engineers was revenge for the cancellation of bribes secretly promised to Pakistani officials.

Mr Morice, who represents family members of the bombing victims, said the decision to pass on the case to the CJR was a sign that it was moving to the next level.

He said the request for Mr Sarkozy to be heard also indicated that he is "by no means exonerated" in the case.

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