Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on trial on Wednesday over allegations of illegitimate funding for his failed 2012 bid, just two weeks after a corruption scandal erupted.
On March 1, the 66-year-old became France’s first post-war president who was sentenced to prison when he was given a three-year term, of which two years were suspended, for corruption and influence.
That case was one of several that hung over him since he left the office.
Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a revenge justice system that he tampered with in power between 2007 and 2012.
In the opening of the trial on Wednesday, in which he is not expected to participate, the splitting right wing is accused of overpaying for its failed re-election in 2012 worth 20 million euros (24 million dollars).
The money was spent on lavish American-style meetings during the final days of the race, when Sarkozy climbed to ward off an unexpectedly strong challenge from his socialist rival Francois Hollande.
Prosecutors say auditors had warned him that the campaign would blow the € 22.5 million ceiling on spending between the first and second ballots, but Sarkozy insisted on holding more events.
Investigators say his total spending for the second round amounted to almost 43 million euros (51 million dollars).
To hide the expenses, the PR company behind the campaign, Bygmalion and officials in Sarkozy’s UMP party (then renamed Les Republicains) are accused of conspiring to get the UMP to pay the bill through a system of fake invoices.
The former president says he was not aware of the fraud – unlike some of the defendants, he is not accused of fraud, but of the minor crime of illegal campaign financing. He fought for several years to avoid a trial.
Bygmalion’s executives and Jerome Lavrilleux, deputy head of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign who will also try, have acknowledged the system of false invoices.
Lavrilleux in particular made headlines in 2014 after he tearfully admitted the fraud during a French TV interview and said: “This campaign was an escape that no one had the courage to stop.”
The trial is set to end on April 15, but Lavrilleux’s defense team has said it will try to postpone the start because his attorney general has been hospitalized at Covid-19.
If Sarkozy is convicted, he risks being sentenced to up to one year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.
On March 1, he was found guilty of forming a “corruption pact” with his lawyer to persuade a judge to share information about another investigation into the politician’s affairs, related to his 2007 winning campaign.
His imprisonment stunned the political establishment and prompted his many admirers on the right, including Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, to send him messages of support.
This sentence is not expected to see him serve actual imprisonment with two of the three years suspended by the court and the remaining year will be served at home with an electronic bracelet.
Sarkozy has appealed the ruling, which effectively shattered all hopes that he could make a new presidential comeback after a first failed attempt in 2016.
In a TF1 television interview on March 3, he repeated that he had “flipped through” his political career but made it clear that he would continue to make his political views known and lubricate right-wing favorites.
Sarkozy is married to former singer and model Carla Bruni, with whom he has a nine-year-old daughter.
He has also been accused of receiving millions of euros from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Gadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.
And in January, prosecutors launched an investigation into alleged influence with his activities as a consultant in Russia.