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Ex-French President Sarkozy Found Guilty of Corruption

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's former president, center, arrives to hear the verdict in a corruption trial at Porte de Clichy court house in Paris, France, on Monday, March 1, 2021. French prosecutors said Sarkozy should get a two-year prison term -- a sentence he would be unlikely to actually serve -- over allegations he abused his power by attempting to influence a lawsuit after stepping down as the country’s president.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption by a court in Paris, becoming the country’s second head of state in the modern era to be convicted of a crime after leaving office.

The 66-year-old was sentenced to a one-year prison term for offering to pull strings to help a magistrate land a prestigious job in return for a favour — although the French legal system means he’s unlikely to serve jail time. His long-time lawyer and the now-retired court official were also convicted.

“Sarkozy used his status as former French president,” Presiding Judge Christine Mée said on Monday as she read out the court’s decision. She said his crime was “particularly serious” and harmed the rule of law. Sarkozy plans to appeal his conviction.

The conviction of Sarkozy — who still enjoys some popularity on the right-wing of French politics — is another setback to a political career that stuttered after his failed 2012 re-election bid. The judgment puts the former head of state on the back-foot weeks before he’s due back in court on separate charges that he illegally exceeded campaign-spending limits ahead of his electoral defeat.

Sarkozy climbed the ladder of French politics at a breathtaking pace. Mayor of a rich Paris suburban town before he hit 30 and elected to parliament shortly after, Sarkozy took his first ministerial role in 1993. Known for his brash style, he made an unsuccessful comeback in 2016, losing the contest to be the centre-right presidential candidate in the following year’s election. In recent months, many Sarkozy supporters hoped he would stage another return.

French Senator Valerie Boyer from Sarkozy’s Les Republicains party told BFM TV on Monday that the judgment means that “it will be difficult” for him to take part in the next presidential campaign, “as many French hoped.” The five-year term of President Emmanuel Macron — who can seek re-election — is due to end in 2022.

Sarkozy left the courtroom without making any comments shortly after the ruling was readout. His attorney in the case, Jacqueline Laffont, said the former head of state will appeal this “extremely harsh” and “entirely unfounded” ruling.

Sarkozy’s wife, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, posted on Instagram that “the fight goes on, the truth will emerge.” She criticized a “senseless persecution” of her husband.

While he isn’t the first former French president to go on trial in modern times, Sarkozy is the first to get a non-suspended sentence. The late Jacques Chirac was too sick to attend court before he was found guilty in 2011 of misusing Paris city funds, and convicted to a two-year suspended term.

Monday’s judgment centres on tapped phone calls of Sarkozy dating back to 2014, after he’d left high office.

Sarkozy was heard telling lawyer and friend Thierry Herzog that he would put in a good word to help the magistrate Gilbert Azibert clinch a sought-after position in Monaco if he helped in a legal fight at France’s top court to stop investigators using the former president’s diaries.

In court, Sarkozy had dismissed the conversations as “chatter” that was misinterpreted by prosecutors.

Aside from the one-year jail term, the judges also gave Sarkozy a two-year suspended sentence. Herzog and the court official charged in the case received the same sentences as the former president.

First offenders aren’t normally incarcerated if the non-suspended portion of their sentence isn’t longer than two years. They typically have to wear electronic bracelets and obey a curfew instead. Additionally, appealing a first-instance sentence suspends its execution.

After the ruling, several Twitter users re-posted a tweet by Sarkozy five years ago, where he signalled his opposition to arrangements such as wearing electronic bracelets for anyone convicted to more than six months in jail.

In her judgment, Mée said on Monday that “the fraternal bond” Herzog “forged with Nicolas Sarkozy obscured his professional judgment as a lawyer.” She said Azibert, the former top court official, “breached the trust of his colleagues.”

The offences “seriously damaged public confidence by instilling the idea that proceedings at the Cour of Cassation” — France’s top court — “can be subjected to hidden arrangements,” Mée said. “Such behaviour seriously harms the legitimate confidence every citizen is entitled to have in the justice system.”


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