ISSN 2330-717X

France: Former President Nicolas Sarkozy Found Guilty Of Corruption

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A Paris court on Monday found French former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced him to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence.

The 66-year-old politician, who was president from 2007 to 2012, was convicted for having tried to illegally obtain information from a senior magistrate in 2014 about a legal action in which he was involved.

The court said Sarkozy will be entitled to request to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.

Sarkozy will face another trial later this month along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy had firmly denied all the allegations against him during the 10-day trial that took place at the end of last year. 

This is the first time in France’s modern history that a former president has gone on trial for corruption and is the first time a former French President in recent history has been given actual jail time.

Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money and given a two-year suspended prison sentence for actions during his time as Paris mayor. 

The last French head of state to go to prison was Marshall Philippe Pétain, the wartime Nazi collaborator.

Sarkozy, wearing a dark suit and tie with a white shirt, bowed his head, but otherwise remained motionless as the verdict was read out.

He was specifically accused of trying to glean confidential information from a judge by using a so-called ‘burner’ mobile phone and a false name – ‘Paul Bismuth’.

Sarkozy had risked up to a decade in prison and a fine approaching the equivalent of £1million.

Also found guilty with him were his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, 65, and Gilbert Azibert, the 73-year-old retired judge who was said to have been bribed – with both having denied wrongdoing.

Herzog and Azibert received the same punishment and are likely to spend their prison time at home with an electronic tag. 

France’s National Financial Prosecutors’ Office, the PNF, had accused the three defendants of working out ‘a corruption pact’ to advance their careers.

In turn, Sarkozy, who led France for a single five-year term up until 2012, told the court he ‘never committed the slightest act of corruption’ and vowed to go ‘all the way’ to clear his name.

Among those in court during the trial was his third wife, the pop singer and model, Carla Bruni, 53.

The former first lady of France had described the charges as ‘a scandal’ and ‘disgusting lies’, adding that the prosecution had ‘no clue of any type, with no reason, with no proof.’

The Paris home Sarkozy shares with Ms Bruni was raided by fraud squad officers within two days of him losing his presidential immunity from prosecution in 2012.

He has since been indicted on numerous allegations, including that he accepted millions in illegal funding from the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

Today’s verdict related to the so-called ‘wiretapping affair’, which saw police investigators placing wiretaps on phones belonging to Sarkozy and Herzog, his lawyer.

The wiretaps picked up Sarkozy and Herzog discussing ways of obtaining confidential information about other enquiries that were being handled by judges at the Court of Cassation in Paris.

Prosecutors said Sarkozy aimed to obtain information from Azibert, including by getting him a prestigious job in the Mediterranean tax haven of Monaco in exchange for leaking information about another legal case, known by the name of France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

In one of these phone calls with Herzog, Sarkozy said of Azibert : ‘I’ll make him move up … I’ll help him.’

In another, Herzog reminded Sarkozy to ‘say a word’ for Azibert during a trip to Monaco.

Azibert did not take up the post, but under French law prosecutors do not have to prove that anybody benefitted from a corrupt deal to secure a conviction.

Defence barristers argued throughout the trial that the recorded conversations between Sarkozy and Herzog was violation of lawyer-client confidentiality.

Sarkozy is back in court on March 17, accused of illegal financing in the so-called Bygmalion Affair.

Bygmalion was the PR firm which handled Sarkozy’s appearances during his failed 2012 re-election campaign, many of them made with Carla Bruni.

The company is said to have used a vast system of false accounting to conceal an alleged explosion of undercover funding for his campaign.

In 2011, Sarkozy’s one-time political mentor and predecessor as president, the late Jacques Chirac, was convicted of embezzlement and misusing public funds.

He was tried in absentia, however, because of his alleged poor health at the time.

Chirac’s crimes related to his time as Paris Mayor, and he was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Before that, Marshal Philippe Pétain, France’s wartime leader, was found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis.

He was given a death sentence, but because of his age and First World War record this was later reduced to prison.

Sarkozy’s appearance in the dock comes as France drops the convention that the country’s executive is in a ‘sacred’position, and so above the law.

Instead, there is growing frustration at the way politicians have used public funds for their own benefit.

In June last year, Sarkozy’s former Prime Minister François Fillon and his British wife, Penelope Fillon, were given prison sentences after being found guilty of fraud.

Judges sitting at the Paris Correctional Court ruled that the couple had created fake jobs that paid Mrs Fillon the equivalent of close to £1million in public funds.

Fillon, 66, was given a five-year sentence, with three years suspended, while his 65-year-old wife received a three-year suspended sentence. Both have appealed sentence.

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