A French court has handed down its verdict in the corruption trial against former President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, with prosecutors demanding prison time for the 66-year-old.
Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, is accused of offering a plum job in Monaco to a judge in exchange for inside information about an investigation into his campaign finances.
The former president told the court he “had never committed the slightest act of corruption”.
Prosecutors demanded that he be imprisoned for four years and served at least two, and asked for the same punishment for his co-defendants – lawyer Thierry Herzog and judge Gilbert Azibert.
“The events would not have happened if a former president, as well as a lawyer, had thought about the size, responsibilities and details of his office,” prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon told the court when the trial took place. in December.
The charges of transplantation and influence – among several lawsuits against him – carry a penalty of up to ten years and a fine of one million euros (1.2 million dollars).
Prosecutors say Sarkozy and Herzog tried to bribe Judge Azibert for information about an investigation into allegations that the former leader had received illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
The state’s case is based on wiretapping conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy, in which prosecutors accuse him of “using secret phone lines” to cover up his attempt to infiltrate the court.
Prosecutor Celine Guillet said it had been established “with certainty” that Judge Azibert transmitted confidential information about the Bettencourt case on an unofficial line to his friend Herzog.
A conversation “overwhelming” showed that Sarkozy had promised to intervene to get Azibert a post in Monaco, she said.
Sarkozy’s lawyer Jacqueline Laffont pointed out the shortcomings and “emptiness” of the prosecutor’s accusations, and the defense also claimed that the intercepted conversations were just “chat between friends”.
Azibert, then a senior adviser at France’s highest court of appeal, never got the job in Monaco.
Sarkozy’s lawyers claimed that this pointed to the absence of corruption, but prosecutors said that French law makes no distinction between a successful attempt at corruption and a failed one.
There will be more coming
Sarkozy was eventually cleared of all wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair but still faces a number of other legal issues.
Allegations that he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Moamer Gadhafi for his 2007 election campaign are still under investigation and he is also accused of fraudulent overuse in his failed 2012 proxy.
In January, prosecutors opened another investigation into Sarkozy’s alleged influence over his advisory activities in Russia.
The news website Mediapart said that the probe focused on a payment from the Russian insurance company Reso-Garantia of 3 million euros in 2019 when Sarkozy worked as an adviser, long after he left the office.
Sarkozy’s long-standing legal efforts helped lower his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but he has been surfing a wave of popularity since announcing his departure from politics in 2018.
Only another French president, Sarkozy’s political mentor Jacques Chirac, was brought to justice after leaving office, but he was excused from attending his 2011 corruption trial due to ill health.
Chirac was given a two-year term due to the creation of ghost jobs in Paris City Hall to fund his party when he was mayor.