The former French president is charged with taking financial advantage of frail l’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt (90).
It is claimed he accepted millions of euros.
Uncertain future: A worried Nicolas Sarkozy leaving Bordeaux’ after being formally charged with ‘abusing the weakness’ of Liliane Bettencourt
With his political career in ruins, he faces a criminal trial. The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a £320,000 fine.
While his lawyers prepared to appeal, political allies spoke of his shock as he returned from Bordeaux, where he was charged, to the Paris home he shares with his third wife, former supermodel Carla Bruni.
“As you can imagine he is in a state of incomprehension,” said Jean-François Cope, president of Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party.
François Fillon, Sarkozy’s former prime minister, tweeted that the decision was “unfair”, adding: “The truth will triumph.”
Thierry Herzog, Sarkozy’s lawyer, called the indictment “legally incoherent and unfair” adding that his client remains “combative” but considers he “has been treated scandalously”.
The judge in charge of the case summoned Sarkozy yesterday to his office, where at least four former members of the heiress’s staff alleged the ex-president had regularly visited her Paris mansion to accept cash to fund his 2007 election campaign.
Bettencourt’s doctors say her mental capacity began to deteriorate from autumn 2006, meaning she would have been particularly vulnerable to people asking her for money.
It is alleged Sarkozy obtained up to four million euros, breaching electoral spending limits and taking advantage of a person weakened by ill health.
He lost his immunity from prosecution when he lost the presidential election last year. He faces a number of other corruption inquiries, including claims that he took cash from late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.