November 3, 2015 / 2:07 PM / 2 years ago

France's Sarkozy angered by link to cocaine smuggling probe

Former French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy delivers his speech during the European People's Party (EPP) congress in Madrid, Spain, October 22, 2015.Susana Vera

PARIS (Reuters) - Former president Nicolas Sarkozy accused French magistrates on Tuesday of violating legal principles by tracking his phone usage in connection with their investigation of a transatlantic drug smuggling operation.

The comments from Sarkozy, tipped to run again for president in 2017, added a bizarre political dimension to a probe that has dominated headlines since two French airline pilots convicted of cocaine smuggling in the Dominican Republic escaped to France in mysterious circumstances last week.

In an interview in the newspaper Le Parisien, Sarkozy said his lawyers were demanding to know why the judiciary had examined his phone records when the only link was that he had flown with the airline at the centre of the probe.

"What I want to know is what could justify an investigating magistrate taking such measures solely because I used the same airline," said Sarkozy.

"What do they think I did - fly to Punta Cana with 700 kg of cocaine? All this would be just laughable if it wasn't about a violation of legal principles that all French people support."

He said such phone tracking could not have been authorised without the knowledge of President Francois Hollande's Socialist government.

The two pilots, who turned up in France after what French media described as a commando-style escape, had been arrested at Punta Cana airport in the Dominican Republic in March 2013.

A trial found they had been involved in smuggling cocaine on small private jets between the Dominican Republic and the upmarket French Riviera resort of Saint Tropez, and they were sentenced in August to 20 years' jail. Both had denied the offences and were free to circulate pending appeals.

France has denied any state involvement in the escape of the pilots, who were arrested before dawn on Monday and taken for questioning.

Dominican authorities have said they intend to have an international arrest warrant issued for the men.

Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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