Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's car wheeled out of the court parking lot in the dead of night on Wednesday after he was charged in a corruption probe, a televised reminder of just how often France's political elite is charged with wrongdoing in office.
The former conservative party leader, whose political comeback has been floated by his faltering UMP party, had been in custody answering questions from judicial officials. His personal lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and magistrate Gilbert Azibert were also questioned.
Sarkozy is accused of tapping political allies to gain intelligence on a flurry of probes linked to campaign finance. He has vigorously denied wrongdoing and planned to address the latest allegations on television Wednesday.
"This situation is serious. The facts are serious," French prime minister Manuel Valls told BFM television. "But as head of the government, I'm asking that we remember the independence of the justice system, which must carry out its work serenely. No one is above the law is the second principle. And thirdly, an important reminder, there is the presumption of innocence."
At the heart of the investigations are allegations that Sarkozy took 50 million euros ($67 million) in illegal campaign funds from Libya's late dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. He has not been convicted.
Valls said the investigation was being carried out by the new financial crime force independently of the Socialist government, which defeated Sarkozy in the 2012 election.
"This is yet another thing to erode the image of the political class, because it gives the image of an all-powerful group that believes itself to be above the law," said Jean Garrigues, a political historian at the University of Orleans and the Sorbonne.
Lawyers for Herzog and Azibert said the men were handed preliminary charges of influence trafficking.
After further investigation, judges will determine whether to hold a trial.