By Polina Chernitsa
France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy may face criminal charges for taking bribes on military contracts and for illegal campaign funding. He risks going to jail for five years if found guilty. Sarkozy, whose presidential immunity expires this week, denies wrongdoing. But there are at least two cases in which the ex-president will have to testify. One involves Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest woman and heiress of the L’Oreal cosmetics giant. In 2007, she allegedly transferred large sums to Swiss banks in a suspected tax evasion plot. Later, part of that money ended up on Sarkozy’s campaign accounts.
Another case is the so-called Karachi-gate. In the middle of the 90s, France supplied two Agosta submarines to Pakistan and allegedly paid generous commissions to Pakistani middlemen. Part of those commissions were kicked back to fund former French Prime Minister Eduard Balladur’s election campaign with Nicolas Sarkozy, budget minister at the time, as chief of Balladur’s campaign staff. Balladur lost to Chirac, who banned commission payments to arms dealers. Later, 11 French engineers were killed in a bomb blast in Karachi during the construction of those same submarines. Even though there is almost no evidence of Sarkozy’s direct involvement in their deaths, the chances of his being summoned to court in this episode at least as a witness are fairly high, says Yuri Rubinsky, a senior analyst at the Institute for European Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
“There is no direct evidence in either of the cases. So far, the ex-president has been summoned as a witness, not as a defendant. The example of Chirac, who received a two-year suspended prison term, is quite illustrative in this regard. It shows that the justice department keeps an eye on the head of state. Once his immunity expires, he is an ordinary citizen. As for Sarkozy, I don’t think that this will be an attempt to take revenge or prevent his political comeback, rather it will be hearings on the merits.”
Kira Zuyeva of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations believes that Sarkozy will escape prosecution as did Chirac.
“It seems to be more about condemnation than about conviction. Despite the gravity of the charges against him, one can hardly expect Sarkozy to be sent to prison. He is a shrewd politician and will find a way of exonerating himself. Things won’t go beyond discussions and condemnations.”
Meanwhile, Sarkozy may potentially be brought to justice in two more cases: for accepting campaign donations from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2007 and for misuse of public funds in 2010-2012.