Updated: May 21, 2021 7:28:49 am
Less than two months after he was sentenced to three years in prison in connection with corruption and influence peddling, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is again facing trial for alleged illegal funding during his failed 2012 presidential campaign.
Sarkozy, 66, who led the country from 2007 to 2012, had lost reelection to the Socialist Francois Hollande, current president Emmanuel Macron’s predecessor.
In March this year, the conservative Sarkozy became the second president in modern-day France — after Jacques Chirac, another rightwing politician — to be convicted for corruption. He has appealed the March decision, and denies wrongdoing in the new case as well.
If convicted, Sarkozy can face up to one year in jail and a fine of 3,750 euros. The trial is scheduled to last until June 22, as per the Associated Press.
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What is the case against Nicolas Sarkozy?
Sarkozy has been accused of spending almost twice the legal limit of 22.5 million euros during his failed reelection bid in 2012. Since 1990, French laws have strictly clamped down on campaign funding, and the Sarkozy trial covers various offences, including forgery, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing.
As per the AP report, an investigative magistrate found that the Sarkozy campaign held massive and expensive rallies, with total costs allegedly exceeding 42.8 million euros. The overspending was allegedly covered up by forging invoices through an external PR firm, but the probe did not establish whether Sarkozy himself took part in or ordered the fraudulent actions.
Apart from Sarkozy, 12 other people and the PR company have also been charged. While some of them have already admitted wrongdoing during the course of the inquiry, prosecutors will now seek to prove that Sarkozy was aware of the scheme.
The case, popularly known in France as the “Bygmalion” affair after the name of the PR company, has stoked divisions within Sarkozy’s conservative party, which was then known as the UMP. It was renamed The Republicans in 2015, and currently leads the largest opposition bloc in the National Assembly.
The former president, however, denies that illegal funds were a part of his campaign, and even said to the judicial inquiry, “Where is the money?”, in an apparent reference to people within his party who could have misused it. He has also said that he cannot recollect two notes given to him by accountants allegedly before the election to keep his expenses in check.
In 2016, Sarkozy had again run for president, but lost in the primaries. The race was eventually won by Emmanuel Macron. Although out of power, Sarkozy retains popularity among The Republicans, and is said to be advising Macron, whose term ends next year.
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