Image: Nicolas Sarkozy, January 15, 2018. Source: Paul Kagame, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Flickr
PARIS (AP) – A Paris court on Monday found former French President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and trade influence and sentenced him to one year in prison. He may ask to serve this time at home and also plans to file an appeal.
The 66-year-old man, who was president from 2007 to 2012, was convicted of trying to bribe a magistrate in exchange for information about a legal case in which he was involved.
He will remain at large for as long as he appeals, but it was a blow to a retired politician who still plays an influential role in French conservative politics. This is also not the end of his legal problems: later this month he will face another trial and is under investigation in the third case.
The ruling was the first time in modern French history that a former president has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of embezzling public funds while serving as mayor of Paris, which is not considered a corruption crime, and was sentenced to two years probation.
The court said Sarkozy had the right to ask to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet – as is the case with any sentence of two years or less. He also received two years probation – which he will not have to serve unless he commits any new crimes within the next five years.
Sarkozy’s lawyer Jacqueline Lafont later said she would appeal.
Sarkozy’s co-defendants – his lawyer and longtime friend Thierry Herzag, 65, and retired judge Gilbert Azibert, 74 – were also found guilty and sentenced to the same sentence as the politician.
The court found that Sarkozy and his co-defendants had concluded a “corruption pact” based on “consistent and serious evidence.”
The court called the case “especially serious”, given that the actions were committed by the former president in his personal interest. In addition, as a lawyer by education, Sarkozy was “well aware” that what he was doing was illegal, the court said.
Sarkozy did not refuse an offer to help Azibert get a job in Monaco – but firmly denied that he had done anything wrong during a 10-day trial late last year.
Sitting in a chair facing the judges and in a mask that mostly hid his face, Sarkozy showed no reaction when the verdict was read out and quickly left the courtroom.
“What insane harassment, my love,” his wife Carla Bruni said in an Instagram post. “The struggle continues, the truth is to see the world.”
The court focused on telephone conversations that took place in February 2014.
At the time, investigating judges began investigating the financing of Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. The investigation revealed that Sarkozy and Herzog were talking on secret mobile phones under the pseudonym “Paul Bismuth”.
Overheard conversations on these phones led prosecutors to suspect Sarkozy and the Duke of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about another lawsuit from Sarkozy.
In a telephone conversation with the Duke, Sarkozy said of Azibert: “I will make him rise. … I will help him. “
In another, the Duke reminded Sarkozy to “say the word” for Azibert during a trip to Monaco.
Aziber never got a job in Monaco, and the trial against Sarkozy was dropped in the case he was seeking information about.
However, prosecutors concluded that the “explicit promise” was still corruption under French law, even if the promise was not kept.
Lafont, Sarkozy’s lawyer, argued that the whole case was based on “empty chatter” between the lawyer and his client.
Sarkozy vehemently denied any malicious intent in his offer to help Azibert. He told the court that his political life was a small help (to the people). That’s all, a little help, “he said during the trial.
He also complained that the auditions violated the confidentiality of the lawyer’s communication with his client.
“In front of you is a man from whom more than 3,700 private conversations have been listened to. … How did I deserve it? ” Sarkozy said during the trial.
The court concluded that the use of wiretapped conversations was legal if they helped show evidence of corruption offenses.
Sarkozy withdrew from active politics after not being elected a presidential candidate by his conservative party in the 2017 French election, which was won by Emanuel Macron.
However, he remains very popular with conservative voters and plays an important role behind the scenes, including by maintaining a relationship with Macron, whom he is said to be advising on some issues. His memoir, published last year, “Time for Thunderstorms,” has been a bestseller for weeks.
Later this month, Sarkozy will face a Paris court again over suspicions of his 2012 presidential campaign, which ended in victory for Socialist rival Francois Hollande. His conservative party and a company called Bygmalion are accused of using a special invoicing system to hide allegedly 42.8 million euros ($ 50.7 million), which is almost twice the maximum allowed.
In another investigation launched in 2013, Sarkozy is accused of taking millions from then-Libyan dictator Maammar Gaddafi for illegally funding his successful campaign in 2007.
In both cases, he denied the crimes.
Source: AP News
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