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May 7, 7:44 AM EDT

French court says phone-tapping of Sarkozy, lawyer was legal


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PARIS (AP) -- The Paris appeals court ruled Thursday that investigating judges didn't break any laws when they tapped conversations between former President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer, in connection with a probe into past campaign financing.

The decision Thursday is a new blow to the conservative opposition leader as he eyes a 2017 presidential bid, because it allows investigations to resume.

Sarkozy is under preliminary charges for active corruption and influence-peddling based on information gleaned from the phone taps. It's among several legal cases he has faced since losing the presidency to Francois Hollande in 2012 - but it's the case that has the greatest chances of seeing Sarkozy sent to trial.

Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog had protested the phone taps, saying they breached lawyer-client privilege and that the investigating judges didn't get proper authorization.

But the appeals court ruled in favor of investigators, according to Herzog's lawyer, Paul-Albert Iweins. The court found that wiretapping on different phone lines used by Sarkozy under his own name and under the false identity of "Paul Bismuth" had been legally carried out, except for one minor phone line.

Lawyers said Sarkozy and Herzog would appeal to France's top court, the Cour de Cassation. "The fight for the confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and client is not just Thierry Herzog's fight, it is the fight of all lawyers," Iweins said.

Investigators tapped the phones in 2013-2014 as part of a probe into illegal financing of Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign. By chance, they discovered an alleged influence-peddling plot by Sarkozy and Herzog as they tried to obtain confidential information about the financing probe.

That discovery prompted a new, separate investigation. The ruling Thursday means that investigation can now resume after a seven-month suspension.

The charge of "active corruption" is graver than others that Sarkozy has faced. It means a suspect is believed to have actively orchestrated corrupt acts, not just participated in them. A conviction could draw a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Sarkozy is also facing a corruption investigation into suspicions that his 2007 presidential campaign received illegal funding from late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime. Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing.

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