A court has found Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced the former French president to three years in prison with two of them suspended.
France’s president from 2007 to 2012 was accused of forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer and a senior magistrate. Judges said there was “serious evidence” of collaboration between the three men to break the law.
The court had heard how Sarkozy instructed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, to offer the magistrate a cushy job on the Côte d’Azur in return for information on a separate investigation centred on the rightwing politician.
It is unlikely the former president will spend a day in jail. The one-year prison sentence can be served with certain conditions, including the wearing of an electronic bracelet, or limited home confinement.
Sarkozy is expected to appeal against the conviction.
The verdict, delivered on Monday afternoon, will quash his hopes of returning to public life in time for next year’s presidential election. His centre-right Les Républicains party has been struggling to come up with a credible candidate since Sarkozy’s former prime minister François Fillon was engulfed in scandal during the 2017 presidential race, opening the way for Emmanuel Macron to win.
Judge Christine Mée, the president of the tribunal, said there was serious evidence of a “corruption pact” between Sarkozy, Herzog and the senior magistrate Gilbert Azibert. Herzog and Azibert were given similar sentences.
The verdict was announced in shocked silence in the Paris court. The three men left the building without making any statement.
The case, based on telephone taps, became known as the “Bismuth affair”; Paul Bismuth was the name the former president employed in connection to two burner telephones used to communicate with Herzog.
Sarkozy had repeatedly denied the accusations of wrongdoing and spent years attempting to have the charges thrown out and the case dismissed. Herzog argued the recorded conversations between him and Sarkozy were covered by client-lawyer privilege and could not be used as evidence.
Before his trial last year, Sarkozy had said he welcomed the hearing as a chance to “clean my name”.
“I am combative. I have no intention of being accused of things I haven’t done. I’m not corrupt and what has been inflicted on me is a scandal that will rest in the annals. The truth will out,” Sarkozy told BFMTV.
French detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared €50m donation from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
What they heard from the recorded conversations pointed investigators in a new and unexpected direction. They revealed the former president and Herzog were “secretly” communicating using mobile telephones registered under false names.
Additional wiretaps on these phones picked up conversations suggesting Sarkozy had been in contact with Azibert, then a member of the cour de cassation – the highest court in France – via Herzog to request confidential information about a separate investigation into whether Sarkozy received donations from the ailing L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
The Bettencourt case was eventually dropped, but by then an investigation into corruption and influence peddling relating to the wiretaps had been opened.
Sarkozy has always strenuously denied any wrongdoing in all past and present investigations. He has previously claimed the Bismuth accusations were “an insult to my intelligence”. However, he is expected to appear in court later this month in yet another case, the “Bygmalion affair”, in which he is accused of overspending on his 2012 re-election bid.
He is also being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanour” related to consulting activities in Russia.
Sarkozy supporters have accused French judges of making the former president the target of an unfair and relentless legal crusade.
He became the first former president to appear in court on criminal charges. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was charged and convicted, receiving a two-year suspended sentence, over fake jobs at City Hall when he was mayor of Paris – but was spared taking the stand because of ill health.
At the end of his two-week trial last year, Sarkozy’s said: “This case has been for me the stations of the cross. But if that was the price to pay for the truth to come out, I am ready to accept it … I still have confidence in the justice of our country.”
Herzog was convicted of breaching the rules of professional secrecy between him and his client, Sarkozy.
Culled from TheGuardian