French police open probe into Sarkozy flat deal

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PARIS, Sep 18 (Reuters) French police have opened a preliminary inquiry into the purchase of a flat by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has previously denied buying the apartment at a large discount, a police source said today.

Police interviewed the complainant in July, a few months after a previous effort to raise Sarkozy's alleged wrongdoing with the legal authorities was dismissed, said the latest edition of Le Canard Enchaine weekly.

The satirical paper, which broke news of the police probe, reported in February that Sarkozy and his wife had paid ''at least'' 300,000 euros (415,800 dollar) less than the market rate for an apartment near Paris in 1997 and had also benefited from free building work on the property.

Sarkozy, elected in May, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he paid 5.88 million francs (around 876,000 euros) for the 222 square metre property on the smart Ile de la Jatte..

The property was built by a developer who was active in the Neuilly district where Sarkozy was mayor and was constructed on land Sarkozy had granted planning permission for, Le Canard said.

Sarkozy sold the flat in 2006 for 1.94 million euros, more than double the original price, the weekly said.

Sarkozy enjoys immunity from prosecution until he leaves office in 2012, unless he wins re-election.

REUTERS RC BST0053

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