Boris Boillon, a former adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy, faces tax fraud and forgery charges after being stopped with a bag stuffed with cash
A French diplomat and close adviser to the former president Nicolas Sarkozy has gone on trial after he was stopped trying to leave the country with a bag stuffed with banknotes.
Boris Boillon, who was known as Sarko Boy, appeared in a Paris court on Monday on charges of tax fraud and forgery following the discovery.
Boillon, who once appeared on the cover of a celebrity magazine with the headline The James Bond of the diplomatic world, was pulled over by customs officers at Gare du Nord in Paris in July 2013 before he boarded a train to Belgium, where he lives with his family near Brussels.
When Boillon opened the sports bag that he was carrying, police found 350,000 (302,000) and $40,000 (31,000) in cash wrapped in plastic bags and a plastic box. Boillon claimed he had been paid the money for consultancy work on a stadium construction in Iraq. As well as the fraud charges, he is accused of breaking strict limits on the transfer of cash within the European Union. The forgery charge relates to documents he allegedly presented justifying the cash.
Investigators say they have been unable to trace the source of the money. Boillon, who is facing four charges, could be fined up to 855,000 if found guilty of each and be ordered to serve up to five years in prison.
Once a rising star in Frances diplomatic service, Boillon, 46, a graduate of the elite Sciences Po university and the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, began his diplomatic career in Algeria in 2000. After Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, Boillon joined him at the lyse as a special presidential adviser on north Africa and the Middle East.
He was appointed ambassador to Iraq in 2009 and two years later he moved to Tunis, where he provoked demonstrations after swearing at a Tunisian journalist and raised eyebrows at the Quai dOrsay, the French foreign affairs ministry, after posting a photo posing in swimming trunks on his Facebook page.
With Sarkozys blessing, he was allowed to remain in his job until the Socialist president Franois Hollande was elected in 2012. He then set up his own consultancy, Spartago, working mainly for Iraqi companies. He returned to the French foreign affairs ministry in 2016 and was sent to the United Nations in New York. He has since been suspended pending the outcome of the trial.
In 2010, Boillon went on Canal+ to defend Muammar Gaddafi, saying: He was a terrorist, he is no longer. We mustnt fall into cliches. Weve all made mistakes in life and weve all the right to be forgiven.
During a preliminary court appearance in March, Boillon indicated he would not be exercising his right to remain silent and wished to explain where the money had come from and where it was going.
On Monday, Boillon, an Arab speaker, told the court he was a big sports lover. Asked why he had left the foreign ministry in 2012, he answered: I like leaving my comfort zone. I wanted to be in the action. One has to think like a man of action.
Asked why he chose Iraq, he said: My big difference is that I go into difficult, dangerous places worth the danger money.
Last November, Sarkozy was hit by fresh allegations that he received 50m from Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign. He has repeatedly denied taking money from the Libyan dictator.