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France's ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, twice convicted in recent months, on Tuesday slammed as "unconstitutional" his summons to give evidence in the trial of ex-aides charged with favouritism over polling contracts.
President from 2007-2012, Sarkozy was in typically defiant form before the criminal court in Paris, exercising his right not to answer questions.
"It is an essential principle of democracies known as the separation of powers and as President of the Republic I do not have to account for the organisation of my office or the way in which I exercised my mandate," he told the court.
He said the decision to summon him was "completely unconstitutional" and "totally disproportionate".
Protected by his presidential immunity, the former head of state has never been charged or interrogated in the poll contracts case.
But in a surprise move, the judge in the trial ordered Sarkozy to appear as a witness to help shed light on the case.
Five aides and allies of Sarkozy, including his former chief of staff Claude Gueant and ex-advisor and consultant Patrick Buisson, have been on trial since October 18 accused of misusing public money and cronyism.
Prosecutors say the polling contracts signed by Sarkozy's staff during his 2007-2012 term in office were sealed in secret and without competition -- breaking French laws on public financing that require transparency and competitive bidding.
The accused all deny the charges.
In late September, a French court handed Sarkozy a one-year prison sentence for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, seven months after he received a separate jail term for corruption.
Sarkozy, who is appealing both sentences, is not expected to serve time behind bars, with the courts ruling that he can wear an electronic bracelet at home instead.
He has promised to clear his name and has accused French prosecutors of a "witch hunt".
The 66-year-old has also been charged over allegations that he received millions of euros for his 2007 election campaign from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Despite his legal woes which appear to have ended his political career, at least for now, he remains a highly influential figure on the right as France prepares for presidential elections in April.
Key figures in President Emmanuel Macron's centrist but increasingly right-leaning government, such as Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, are former Sarkozy allies.