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Nicolas Sarkozy

France’s Sarkozy loses corruption appeal, to challenge at highest court

France’s Sarkozy loses corruption appeal, to challenge at highest court
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy exits the courthouse after appeal court upheld his corruption conviction, Paris, France, 17 May 2023. French appeal court upheld a three-year prison sentence on Sarkozy by lower court in 2021 for trying to bribe a judge after leaving office, and of peddling influence in exchange for confidential information about an investigation into his 2007 presidential campaign finances. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

PARIS, May 17 (Reuters) - Former president Nicolas Sarkozy lost his appeal against a 2021 conviction for corruption and influence peddling at the Paris Court of Appeals on Wednesday, prompting his legal team to promise a challenge at France's highest court.

The appeals court upheld a three-year prison sentence. In line with the initial ruling, it said two of those years were suspended and that Sarkozy would wear an electronic bracelet instead of going to jail for the remaining year.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is innocent of the charges (he has been convicted of),” defence lawyer Jacqueline Laffont said. “We will not give up this fight”.

Prosecutors had recommended a softening of the punishment to a three-year suspended sentence. However, the presiding judge Sophie Clement stuck with the initial penalty and said the case had impacted the country’s institutions.

Jail terms of a year or less are typically not served in prison if certain conditions, such as the wearing of an electronic tag, are met.

Sarkozy, 68, left the court without speaking to reporters.

A conservative who served one term as French president from 2007 to 2012, Sarkozy will take his legal battle to France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, Laffont said.

The Cour de Cassation reviews lower court rulings on the grounds of legal or procedural errors, but not factual aspects.

A lower court in 2021 found Sarkozy guilty of trying to bribe a judge after leaving office, and of peddling influence in exchange for confidential information about an investigation into his 2007 campaign finances.

 

WIRETAPS

The conviction marked a stunning fall from grace for a former president who once bestrode the world, and is one of several legal battles Sarkozy has been fighting over the past decade.

Sarkozy has always denied wrongdoing.

Known in France as the “wiretapping affair”, the case at the centre of Wednesday’s ruling is indirectly linked to a suspicion of illegal campaign financing ahead of the 2007 election.

In 2013, investigators looking into money flows from Libya – over which Sarkozy may face another trial soon – wiretapped two of Sarkozy’s phone lines and discovered a secret line used by the ex-president and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.

The courts found that Sarkozy conspired to secure a plum job in Monaco for a judge, Gilbert Azibert, in return for inside information about an inquiry into allegations he had accepted illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt – another episode stemming from his 2007 presidential campaign finances.

Also upholding the corruption and influence peddling convictions against Herzog and Azibert, the judge said Herzog’s judgement as a lawyer failed him because of his friendship with Sarkozy. Herzog had breached professional codes of conduct by not warning the former president that what he was doing was illegal, Clement added.

She dismissed Sarkozy’s claim that he was not aware of what Herzog and Azibert had discussed, based on the wiretapped exchanges, and rejected his argument that wiretapped conversations could not be presented as evidence in court.

The only other president during the course of France’s 64-year-old Fifth Republic to be convicted by a court was Sarkozy’s conservative predecessor, the late Jacques Chirac, who was found guilty of corruption in 2011.

By Tassilo Hummel

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; editing by Richard Lough, Mark Heinrich and Bernadette Baum)

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