Sarkozy sentenced to three years in prison for corruption and influence peddling

The former president, who can still appeal, will serve at least a year in prison at his home monitored by an electronic device
Atalayar_Nicolas Sarkozy

AFP/ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT  -   On 1 March 2021, a French court convicted former President Nicolas Sarkozy on charges of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced him to three years in prison

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France's Fifth Republic from 2007 to 2012, has been sentenced to three years in prison on charges of corruption and influence peddling. The Paris correctional court has signed a sentence that obliges Sarkozy to serve at least one of the three years. Despite the possibility of appeal available to the former president, it seems unlikely that his sentence will be reduced, which complicates his return to the party, now under the name of the Republicans - Union for a Popular Movement when Sarkozy won the election against socialist Ségolène Royal in 2007.

The prosecution asked for four years in prison. That year more than the five-year sentence of the former president of France has fallen on his two other partners in the prosecution: his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, on charges of disclosure of professional secrets. The judgement states that a corruption agreement existed between the three parties. Sarkozy was to support Azibert's candidacy in Monaco in exchange for Azibert providing him with information on certain judicial matters. All this was revealed through several telephone conversations between Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer, in which the former president replied "I'll make it go up" to Herzog's assertions: "He's working hard".

Despite the fact that Gilbert Azibert never reached the position that Sarkozy was trying to help him reach - one of the arguments used by the defence in the trial - French justice establishes that it is not necessary for there to be a quid pro quo or for the influence to materialise in order for there to be a crime of corruption and influence peddling.

The sentence was read out by Christine Mée, president of the 32nd chamber of the Paris Correctional Court, who was responsible for handling the case along with two other magistrates. She said that Sarkozy will be able to serve the year in prison at his home, although he will be monitored by an electronic device. At least for the moment, he will not have to go to prison. Nor did the first president of France to be sentenced by the courts, Jacques Chirac - he served two terms as president from 1995 to 2007 - who was Nicolas Sarkozy's predecessor in office. In his case, the conviction was for disguising his employees on the municipal payroll while he was mayor of Paris. 

Atalayar_Nicolas Sarkozy juicio
PHOTO/AFP - Combination of images of French lawyer Thierry Herzog, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and French judge Gilbert Azibert

There is little room for Sarkozy to avoid conviction. An appeal is still a possibility which, although very unlikely to succeed, remains an option for the former Republican leader, who in December categorically denied the charges for which he is now convicted: "Let me say solemnly that I have never committed the slightest act of corruption. Never. I have never abused my influence, alleged or real".

Nicolas Sarkozy's journey through the French courts does not end here. In just over two weeks' time, on 17 March, he is due to sit in the dock again for his involvement in the "Bygmalion case", named after the communications and events company that organised all his rallies in the 2012 election campaign to reinstate him as president, when he was defeated by the leader of France's Socialist Party, François Hollande.

He is accused of "illegal campaign financing" because of exceeding the stipulated limit of 20 million euros. The company Bygmalion was used to make up the accounts, and he is now asking for an additional year's imprisonment on top of the three years he has already been sentenced to.

But it does not stop there. Also in the 2007 elections, when he managed to win the election, there were much more serious irregularities than the ones he is accused of in his second candidacy. In this case, he is accused of receiving money from the Libyan Gaddafi regime for "criminal association, passive corruption, possession of Libyan funds and illegal campaign financing". It was thanks to this investigation that it was possible to tap Sarkozy's phone and to discover the use of another secret mobile phone to talk exclusively to one of those who has been convicted alongside him today, his lawyer Thierry Herzog.