A useful 60th birthday gift for presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy would be news that his legal woes had disappeared.
The former president and other likely candidates from the right - former foreign minister Alain Juppé and former prime minister François Fillon - might benefit in the 2017 presidential race from Socialist leader Francois Hollande's unpopularity, but Sarkozy's legal woes amount to a handicap his rivals don't have.
Sarkozy gained a potential head start on his rivals in November 2014 with his election to the chairmanship of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The three main presidential contenders from the right are UMP members.
Sarkozy is likely to lose his front-runner status in the UMP if he can't shake off his legal problems by the time of the party's primary election in 2016. As reported by France24, French judges formally opened an investigation in March 2013 into allegations of illegal kickbacks from the sale of 45 helicopters to Kazakhstan in 2010, during Sarkozy's time as president. He has also been placed under formal investigation for alleged influence-peddling, and judges in Paris are probing allegations of money laundering, bribery of foreign officials, and conspiracy to cover up these crimes. In July 2014 Sarkozy, his lawyer, and a French magistrate were formally charged with corruption. His party is also under investigation over campaign financing.
Sarkozy was the first French president not to be re-elected for a second term since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981.
Date written/update: 2014-12-23