One after the other, President Nicolas Sarkozy's closest friends and aides, who for so long served as his political fireguards, have become implicated in a series of scandals and fast-developing judicial investigations. The alleged illegal political funding scam that has finally exploded with the revelations surrounding arms dealer Ziad Takieddine has already demolished the president's once solid network of protection. What has been happening this past month at the summit of French political power is historic, writes Mediapart editor François Bonnet, for never before has a French president been so exposed to being sunk by scandal and the revenge of abandoned protagonists.
One by one, the once airtight blocks are falling. One after the other, President Nicolas Sarkozy's friends, who have for so long served as his fireguards, now find themselves placed under investigation by the justice authorities and facing serious charges. What has been happening this past month at the summit of French political power is historic. Previous presidencies, notably those of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, were tainted by scandals. But none of those presidents faced the threat of being swept away by them in the manner that Nicolas Sarkozy does today.
In the days before he accepted an offer to return to government as foreign affairs minister in November 2010, the veteran Gaullist politician Alain Juppé is widely reported as having asked Sarkozy: "Do I have any interest in climbing aboard the Titanic?" More recently, when he was asked about his impressions onboard, he quipped that he now recognizes the ship had "a captain". But now the skipper has become the major problem for both the government and the ruling UMP party.
For every protection mechanism created by Sarkozy during his 30-year political career is in the process of crumbling to pieces and, even though protected by law under the impunity enjoyed by French presidents, he now finds himself increasingly exposed to the ongoing judicial investigations - and the verdict of public opinion.
We must take full stock of what is becoming a crisis of regime. Never before have the men in the shadows, those who served others in the secret world of political financing and personal enrichment, been suddenly paraded in public in the manner witnessed over recent weeks. Can anyone imagine a character like arms dealer Ziad Takieddine crash onto the public stage during the presidencies of Charles de Gaulle or François Mitterrand?
The danger now is such that intermediaries like Takieddine have chosen to threaten the pinnacle of political power via lengthy media interviews.
When, in early July, Mediapart began publication of its series of detailed investigative reports on the interlacing commercial activities involving Takieddine and the presidency, based on commission-stuffed contracts and secret diplomacy (see the first article here), they were accorded little importance. The initial disinterest was all the more disappointing given that Mediapart has, since September 2008, regularly revealed the true nature of the weapons contracts signed in 1994 with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Following that first article, 15 more in the series have followed, including dozens of documents and photos (see the list at the bottom of page three of this editorial). None of those cited in our reports has taken the risk of legal action against Mediapart. We spelt out the sensitive issues and dirty truth exposed in our reports about the arms dealer and the French presidency, and we underlined how the gravity of those facts rendered all the more scandalous the obstacles the government has placed in the path of the independent magistrates investigating them (see Mediapart Editor-in-Chief Edwy Plenel's analysis here).