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French court jails former President Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption

EUROPE
By AFP | March 1st 2021

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, wearing a protective face mask, arrives for the verdict in his trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling, at Paris courthouse, France, March 1, 2021. [Reuters]

A French court found former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty on Monday of trying to bribe a judge and influence peddling, making him the second head of state in modern-day France to be convicted of corruption.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, was found guilty of offering a plum job in Monaco to a judge in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

He was sentenced to three years in jail, including two years suspended.

The same sentence was handed down to his co-defendants – lawyer Thierry Herzog and judge Gilbert Azibert.

The former president and his lawyer were found guilty of seeking to bribe judge Azibert for information on an inquiry into claims the former leader had received illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

The state's case was based on wiretaps of conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy, with prosecutors accusing him of "using secret telephone lines" to cover up his attempt to infiltrate the court.

Prosecutors 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.

One conversation "overwhelmingly" showed that Sarkozy had promised to intervene to get Azibert a post in Monaco, they said.

Azibert, who was a senior adviser at France's highest appeals court at the time, never got the job in Monaco.

Sarkozy's lawyers argued this pointed to the absence of corruption but prosecutors said French law makes no distinction between a successful corruption attempt and a failed one.

Other cases pending

Sarkozy, who was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair, still faces a raft of other legal woes.

Allegations that he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 election campaign are still being investigated, and he is also accused of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 reelection bid.

In January, prosecutors opened another probe into alleged influence-peddling by Sarkozy over his advisory activities in Russia.

News website Mediapart said the probe targeted a payment by Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of 3 million euros in 2019 when Sarkozy was working as an adviser, well after leaving office.

Sarkozy's long-running legal travails helped sink his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but he has surfed on a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018.

Only one other French president, Sarkozy's political mentor Jacques Chirac, was put on trial after leaving office, but he was excused from having to attend his 2011 corruption trial because of ill health.

Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris city hall to fund his party when he was mayor.

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