PARIS, 1 March 2021 – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced Monday to three years in prison, two of them suspended, on corruption and influence peddling charges.
The verdict was handed down in Paris by Judge Christine Mee, the presdent of the tribunal, in the silence of a shocked court.
Last year, Sarkozy who was president from 2007 to 2012, welcomed the hearing, describing it as a chance to “clean my name”.
However, Monday’s ruling left many observers speculating that the outcome of the case has put a final nail on Sarkozy’s political coffin.
Aides to the former French leader had said his plans included returning to public life in time for next year’s presidential election in France.
Sarkozy’s party has been desperate to find a candidate who can win the French presidency (known as the Elysee Palace).
One of Sarkozy’s former prime ministers, François Fillon, who was seen as the next-in-line after Sarkozy, got entangled in scandals during the 2017 presidential race.
The political dirt associated to Fillon helped pave the path to the Elysee Palace for current president, Emmanuel Macron, who was, in many ways seen as an unknown political quantity at the time.
The case for which prosecutors demanded that Sarkozy be slapped with four years in prison accused the former French president of forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer, Thierry Hertzog, and a senior magistrate, Gilbert Azibert.
The judges of the Paris tribunal said they found “serious evidence” of collaboration between the three men to break the law and sentenced co-defendants Azibert and Hertzog to similar sentences.
The matter involved Sarkozy’s lawyer, Hertzog, offering Azibert a plum job on the Cote d’Azur in exchange for information on a separate investigation focused on a rightwing politician.
Sarkozy is expected to appeal the ruling but, in any event, very unlikely to serve a single day in prison given privileges extended to former French presidents.
Instead, and mostly likely, Sarkozy may be confined in his residence or may be made to wear an electronic bracelet.
Sarkozy and his co-defendants, who have always denied wrongdoing in the matter and tried to get it thrown out, left the court Monday afternoon without making a statement.
Evidence in the case was partly gathered through telephone taps which Hertzog argued violated client-lawyer privileges.
Investigators confirmed that Sarkozy used cell phones registered under false names to carry out certain transactions that he did not want traced back to him.
Detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared 50 million euros in donation from the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.
When Sarkozy and former American President Barack Obama led the NATO military campaign in which Gaddafi was ousted and murdered on video, the Libyan dictator insisted that the reason Sarkozy wanted him dead was to prevent any evidence of the donation ever coming to light.
The wiretaps revealed that Sarkozy sought information the investigation into whether the former French leader received donations from the ailing L’Oreal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.
Confirmation of Sarkozy’s behavior in the “Bettencourt affair” led many observers to speculate that there was substance to Gaddafi’s accusations, with many newspaper articles popping across French-speaking Africa questioning the extent to which African presidents may be involved in such corruption.
The Bettencourt case was dropped without ever coming before a court of law.
In the Libya investigation, Sarkozy was charged in 2018 with corruption, illegal campaign financing and benefiting from embezzled public funds.
Prosecutors accused Sarkozy and several associates of receiving millions of euros from the regime of the late Col Muammar Gaddafi to help him out with the election campaign that saw him win the presidency and serve from 2007 to 2012.
“My innocence is once again trampled on by a decision that presents no evidence at all of any illicit financing,” Sarkozy wrote at the time on his Facebook page.
Sarkozy’s legal woes are not over yet. He is being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanor” related to consulting activities in Russia.
Sarkozy is the first former French President to appear in court on criminal charges.
Although his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was charged and later sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence over fake jobs at City Hall while he was the mayor of Paris, Chirac was spared the embarrassment of hacing to appear in court by poor health.
Last year, Sarkozy played victim, likening his obligation to go through the trial to the Passion of Christ.
“This case has been for me the stations of the cross,” the former French leader said of the just concluded court proceedings against him.
Sarkozy is not done yet with what the experience he compares to “the stations of the cross”.
He is due to go on trial from 17 March to 15 April 2021 over the so-called Bygmalion affair, in which he is accused of having fraudulently overspent in his unsuccessful 2012 presidential reelection campaign.