Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy goes on trial accused of corruption in phone-tapping scandal
ormer French president Nicolas Sarkozy went on trial on Monday charged with corruption and influence-peddling in a phone-tapping scandal.
Sarkozy is accused of trying to bribe a magistrate for information about an investigation involving him in 2014. His appearance marks the first time a former French president has gone into the dock in modern times.
The 65-year-old, who is married to the singer Carla Bruni, is standing trial alongside his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73.
The three face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of €1 million (£900,000) if convicted. All deny any wrongdoing.
Sarkozy arrived at the court surrounded by his lawyers and bodyguards, in the presence of dozens of journalists. The Paris court has been placed under high security as hearings in the case, scheduled until December 10, are taking place at the same time as another key trial – that of the 2015 attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket.
The trial started in the absence of Azibert. His lawyer told news broadcaster BFM TV that he intends to request the postponement of the trial, arguing his client’s bad health makes it risky for him to travel and appear in court amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into suspected illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
Nicolas Sarkozy with wife Carla Bruni on a visit to Cairo in 2007
/ AP )
In 2014, Sarkozy, who won that election and went on to lead France for five years, and Herzog used secret mobile phones — registered under the alias “Paul Bismuth” — to have private talks, as they feared their conversations were being tapped illegally.
Investigative judges, however, suspect they actually wanted to avoid being tapped by investigators. Legal proceedings against Sarkozy have been dropped in the Bettencourt case. Sarkozy has claimed judicial harassment, accusing judges of breaching lawyer-client privilege via wire-tapping.
“I don’t want things that I didn’t do to be held against me. The French need to know… that I’m not a rotten person,” he told news broadcaster BFM earlier this month. He said he was facing the trial in a “combative” mood. Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial investigations.
Allegations, which include illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by then-Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, cast a shadow over Sarkozy’s comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential election. After failing to be chosen as a candidate by his conservative party, he withdrew from active politics. Sarkozy remains the most popular figure among Right-wing voters in France in recent years. His memoirs published this summer, The Time Of Storms, was a bestseller for weeks.
In 2018 he was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and benefiting from embezzled public funds in the Libyan investigation.
Last month, magistrates also charged him with “membership in a criminal conspiracy”. He has denied all the charges. Sarkozy will also stand trial in the spring with 13 others on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign. His conservative party, and a company named Bygmalion, are accused of using a special invoice system to conceal unauthorised overspending.