Ex-French ambassador and Sarkozy aide Boris Boillon goes on trial

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.

Asked to open the sports bag he was carrying, Boillon reportedly refused. When he did, 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 France’s diplomatic service, Boillon, 46, a graduate of the elite Sciences Po university and the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations, began his foreign office career in Algeria in 2000. After Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, Boillon joined him at the Elysée 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 d’Orsay, the French foreign office, after posting a photo posing in swimming trunks on his Facebook page.

With Sarkozy’s blessing, he was allowed to remain in his job until the Socialist president François Hollande was elected in 2012. He then set up his own consultancy, Spartago, working mainly for Iraqi companies. He returned to the French foreign office 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 Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, saying: “He was a terrorist, he is no longer. We mustn’t fall into cliches. We’ve all made mistakes in life and we’ve 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.

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.