On March 1, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy who held the position from 2007-2012 was sentenced to three years in prison in connection with corruption and influence peddling. With Monday’s verdict, Sarkozy, a right-wing politician, has become the second president in modern-day France — after Jacques Chirac, also a right-wing politician — to be convicted for corruption.
But Sarkozy’s conviction marks the first time that a former president has been convicted on charges that relate to acts committed during his time in the country’s highest office. Sarkozy has, however, maintained that he is innocent and has said that he will appeal the verdict.
So what exactly are the charges against Sarkozy?
Sarkozy has been accused of bribing a judge with the promise of an important position in exchange for receiving confidential information about another trial that the former French president is facing. The Paris court said that after leaving office, Sarkozy offered a secure job to judge Gilbert Azibert in Monaco in return for confidential information about the trial that alleged that Sarkozy had accepted illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 election campaign.
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According to French media reports, the court said the trio of Sarkozy, his lawyer and thirty-year-old friend Thierry Herzog and Azibert acted together in a “corruption pact”. Herzog and Azibert were also handed over the same sentence by the court. Herzog, who is a criminal lawyer, has also been barred from practicing for the next five years.
In March 2018, Sarkozy was indicted by the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) for passive corruption, concealment of embezzlement of Libyan public funds and illegal campaign financing. This was related to a case in which Sarkozy was alleged to have received funding worth millions of euros from Libya with the help of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for his 2007 campaign.
As part of investigations related to this case, Sarkozy and Herzog’s phones were tapped in 2013-2014, which revealed that Sarkozy used the alias “Paul Bismuth” to discuss Judge Azibert. In France this case is referred to as the “wiretapping case” or the “eavesdropping” case because of the route that investigators took.
Another case against Sarkozy is likely to go on trial from March 17 and is referred to as the Bygmalion affair. The allegations are that during his re-election bid in 2012, Sarkozy’s party overspent (there is a limit to the amount of money that can be spent during election campaigns in France) and tried to hide the costs with the help of a PR company.
What does this mean for Sarkozy?
The sentence does not mean that he will physically go to prison since two of the three years in the sentence have been suspended. Further, Sarkozy may be allowed to serve his remaining sentence form his home under conditions similar to a house arrest. French newspaper l’Humanité said that Sarkozy will likely serve his sentence under house arrest with an electronic surveillance device.
Even so, his conviction is historic for the country. The Economist says that since the establishment of the French Fifth Republic by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, “criminal cases against elected politicians have often failed either to make it to court or to end in a conviction, let alone a prison sentence. On March 1st a Paris court took a step closer to ending an era of impunity”.
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