Ex-president Sarkozy in spotlight over former wife's job as parliamentary assistant

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French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé reported on Wednesday that the former wife of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was paid as a parliamentary assistant in 2002, casting doubt on whether she had worked to justify her salary.

The allegations, which echo those made in 2017 against the wife of former prime minister François Fillon, were denied by a source close to Sarkozy who ruled out any wrongdoing.

The investigative and satiricial weekly newspaper said Cécilia Attias, then known as Cécilia Sarkozy, was employed as an assistant to the woman who stood in for Sarkozy in parliament from 2002, when he was promoted to interior minister.

Cécilia took home nearly €3,100 ($3,780 at current rates) a month in income for the part-time job, the report said, citing payslips.

"Not an article, no report, not one of the many books devoted to the former first lady mentions her work as a parliamentary assistant," the weekly wrote.

A source close to Sarkozy confirmed to AFP that Cecilia was employed as an assistant to his parliamentary replacement in 2002-2003, but said that her role in her husband's political career was a "matter of public knowledge".

She was known to have a position advising Sarkozy at the interior ministry and worked on his successful presidential campaign in 2007.

But the report quoted Cécilia telling a TV interviewer in 2002: "I am not paid, the work I do with my husband is voluntary."

Sarkozy, a conservative, later served as French president from 2007 to 2012.

Since leaving office after a single term, he has been embroiled in investigations into illegal campaign financing, attempts to influence the judiciary, and allegations he took money from former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

He denies all the allegations.

Echoes of Penelopegate

French media were quick to draw comparisons with the fake parliamentary job scandal that derailed Fillon's presidential run just a few months before the 2017 election – and was also uncovered by the Canard Enchainé.

At the time, the weekly revealed that Fillon, the hot favourite for the presidency, had employed his wife Penelope as his parliamentary assistant from 1998 to 2013 without her carrying out duties to justify her salary.

The couple were convicted in June for misusing public funds and handed prison sentences, which they have appealed.

At the time of the scandal, Fillon and his allies sought to justify his wife's job by saying such practices were common within parliament at the time.

Cécilia Attias, a former model, divorced Sarkozy in October 2007 shortly after he became president and married advertising executive Richard Attias, her third husband.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)