FORMER Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has been indicted on felony charges linked to his alleged use of illegal campaign contributions to cover up an extramarital affair.

Edwards, 58, faces a six-count indictment “for allegedly participating in a scheme to violate federal campaign finance laws”, the Justice Department said in a statement yesterday.

The charges, prepared after two years of investigations, concern hundreds of thousands of dollars provided by two wealthy donors that Edwards allegedly used to shelter his mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he fathered a child.

Edwards, who sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008, allegedly accepted “more than $843,960 in an effort to conceal from the public facts that he believed would harm his candidacy”, said US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“As this indictment shows, we will not permit candidates for high office to abuse their special ability to access the coffers of their political supporters to circumvent our election laws,” Breuer said in a statement.

Edwards, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, was to appear in court in Winston Salem, North Carolina at 4.30am (AEST) today.

John Edwards was a youthful looking, silver-tongued US senator from North Carolina in 2004 when he became John Kerry’s running mate. The two were defeated that year by then-president George W Bush.

The case relies heavily on Andrew Young, a former close aide to Edwards who initially claimed to be the father of the child so that the politician could continue his 2008 White House race.

Young later wrote a tell-all book about the affair in which he detailed a costly and elaborate effort to keep it from going public. He has also testified before a North Carolina grand jury.

Edwards admitted to the affair in August 2008, after his campaign had ended, but did not admit to fathering the child until January 2010.

Elizabeth Edwards, his politically savvy and popular wife, was informed of the affair in 2006, while she was being treated for cancer.

She recovered and played a central role in his 2008 presidential run, but died in December at the age of 61 after the cancer resurfaced.

Much of the case hinges on whether the money used in the coverup, linked to an elderly wealthy donor, was a personal gift or illegal campaign donations that were concealed from election authorities.

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