The former President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been sentenced to four years in prison for a case of corruption and influence peddling, together with his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and a former senior judge, Gilbert Azibert. This is the first case in French history to call for a final prison sentence against a former president of the Fifth Republic.
The public prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon considered both crimes, which were brought to light by the telephone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog, to be proven. The former president and his lawyer allegedly attempted to bribe Judge Gilbert Azibert, in order to obtain information about a court case against Sarkozy.
The prosecution also stated that the former tenant of the Elysée Palace made a 'corruption pact' in 2014 by obtaining from the senior judge, through his lawyer, information protected by secrecy from an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal, in exchange for offering him a seat on the Council of State of Monaco.
"The events would not have happened if a former president, who was also a lawyer, had taken into account the greatness, responsibility and duties of the office he held," the prosecutor said, stressing that he, as head of state, had been "the guardian of the independence of the judiciary.
"The Republic does not forget its presidents, if only because they make history. Conversely, it is not acceptable for a former president to forget the Republic and what it has led to for several decades: a state governed by the rule of law," Mr Blachon continued.
The prosecutor's office has been forceful in its statements. Denouncing the "devastating effects of this affair that has struck at the values of the Republic", the finance magistrate considered that it had "damaged" the judicial institution, the legal profession and the presidential image. "Gilbert Azibert's integrity has disappeared," he said, describing Thierry Herzog as the "evil genius" of the case.
The representatives of the public prosecutor's office began yesterday afternoon to demonstrate the "corruption pact" that the three men had made in early 2014, they said. In their opinion, Nicolas Sarkozy obtained, through his lawyer, information protected by secrecy about a procedure of the Court of Cassation in the "Bettencourt" case. As evidence: conversations recorded on an unofficial line called "Paul Bismuth", opened by Thierry Herzog - according to him to escape "wild" wiretapping, in reality to "thwart justice by extra-judicial means," Blachon said.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, for his part, insisted on his innocence on Monday and declared in court: "Let me solemnly say that I have never committed the slightest act of corruption. Never. I have never abused my influence, alleged or real".
Once the prosecution's case was over, Sarkozy spent several minutes meeting with his lawyers. Later, lawyer Jacqueline Lafront assured the media that she would refute the accusations and that the former president had "confidence" in a resolution of the case that would be in his best interests.
Nicolas Sarkozy faces a new trial next year over the expenses of the 2012 presidential campaign in which he lost to François Hollande. He is also being investigated for the financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. In particular, he is suspected of using Libyan money from the dictator Gaddafi. The former president is facing several open cases that are causing his credibility to decline further.