Sarkozy Vows to 'Go All The Way' to Clear His Name

Published March 4th, 2021 - 10:13 GMT
French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy
French former president Nicolas Sarkozy reacts as he is interviewed by journalist Gilles Bouleau (unseen) in the studio set of French television channel TF1's evening news on March 3, 2021 in Boulogne Billancourt, on the outskirts of Paris. France's former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy launched a defiant offensive to clear his name after being handed a three-year sentence for corruption, lambasting the verdict and mulling a petition to Europe's top rights court. Ludovic MARIN / AFP
Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris city hall to fund his party when he was mayor.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy today vowed to 'go all the way' to clear his name, two days after being handed a three-year prison sentence for corruption.   

A Paris court ruled that Sarkozy had formed a 'corruption pact' with his lawyer Thierry Herzog to convince a judge to obtain and share information about an inquiry into the financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. 

The former head of state immediately appealed, sparking a new lengthy legal process. He will remain free during his appeal, with no arrest warrant issued. The appeal process could take years to conclude.

In two interviews today, he lambasted the verdict and said he was mulling filing a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. 

'I never betrayed the trust of the French people,' Sarkozy told TF1 channel in a primetime interview, arguing that the Paris court had convicted him of corruption despite concluding that 'not a cent' had changed hands and that no favours had been granted. 

The 66-year-old told Le Figaro daily the ruling was 'riddled with inconsistencies' and was based on 'a bunch of circumstantial evidence'.   

'Perhaps it will be necessary to take this battle to the (Strasbourg-based) European Court of Human Rights,' he said.

'It would be painful for me to have my own country condemned, but I am ready because that would be the price of democracy.'

It comes as the former French President was found guilty of corruption on Monday at the Paris Tribunal and convicted for trying to illegally influence a judge during his time in office. 

Sarkozy was handed a three-year prison sentence, with two years suspended and the option of being detained at home with an electronic bracelet for the third year. 

The verdict, during a three-week trial, is the latest twist in the tumultuous political career of the 66-year-old, who was France's president from 2007 to 2012 and remains a favourite for many on the right.

With three other legal cases pending against him, the conviction is likely to undermine any attempted comeback to frontline politics, an ambition he has denied, but which has been promoted by many supporters ahead of 2022 presidential elections.

Sarkozy told TF1 he had 'turned the page' on his political career.

Handing down the sentence, the court said Sarkozy's crime was 'particularly serious having been committed by a former president who was the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary'. 

The verdict on Monday related to a case of influence peddling and corruption, one of at least four separate investigations into the former leader, who married former supermodel and singer Carla Bruni while in office.

Sarkozy was accused of offering to help a judge obtain a senior job in Monaco in exchange for putting pressure on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

The former president told the court during the trial he had 'never committed the slightest act of corruption'.

Prosecutors called for him to be jailed for four years and serve a minimum of two, and asked for the same punishment for his co-defendants - lawyer Thierry Herzog and the judge Gilbert Azibert. 

They were also found guilty and sentenced to the same punishment as Sarkozy and also said they would be appealing.  

Only one other French president, Sarkozy's political mentor Jacques Chirac, was put on trial after leaving office, but he was excused from having to attend his 2011 corruption trial because of ill health.

Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris city hall to fund his party when he was mayor.

The last French head of state to go to prison was Marshall Philippe Pétain, the wartime Nazi collaborator. 

Sarkozy's conviction is far from marking the end of Sarkozy's legal woes.

On March 17, the ex-president is scheduled to face a second trial over accusations of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 re-election bid.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the newspaper Le Monde urged Sarkozy to put an end to his confrontation with the French legal system and stop whipping up the anger of his supporters towards judges.

'Today, he is reaping what he has sowed and must consider the advisability of continuing this populist excess, which has not only become a trap for him but a risk for the country,' it said.

But Le Parisien newspaper voiced sympathy for Sarkozy in an editorial by its director condemning the 'relentless intransigence' of the judiciary towards the ex-politician.

Staff at the newspaper distanced themselves from the editorial. 

Right-wing allies of Sarkozy have rushed to his defence, portraying him as the victim of a witch hunt by France's national financial prosecutors.

'When some judges start to play politics, the role of lawmakers is to strongly denounce it,' Guillaume Peltier, the deputy leader of right-wing opposition party The Republicans, told LCI television.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a former member of Sarkozy's Republicans party who was poached by President Emmanuel Macron, also expressed support for the defendant.

'I know he's an honest man,' Darmanin declared.

France's National Financial Prosecutors' Office, the PNF, had accused the three defendants - Sarkozy, lawyer Thierry Herzog and the judge Gilbert Azibert - of working out 'a corruption pact' to advance their careers.

Jean-François Bohnert, the head of the PNF said he found the Sarkozy offences 'particularly serious, having been committed by a former president of the Republic who was once the guarantor of an independent judiciary.'

'The events would not have occurred if a former president, as well as a lawyer, had kept in mind the magnitude, the responsibility, and the duties of his office,' prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon told the court as the trial wound up in December.

The corruption and influence-peddling charges - among several legal cases against him - carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of one million euros ($1.2 million).

Prosecutors say Sarkozy and Herzog tried to bribe judge Azibert over an inquiry into claims the former leader had received illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

The state's case is based on wiretaps of conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy, with prosecutors accusing him of 'using secret telephone lines' to cover up his attempt to infiltrate the court.

Prosecutor Celine Guillet said it had been established 'with certainty' that judge Azibert transmitted confidential information about the Bettencourt case to his friend Herzog.

One conversation 'overwhelmingly' showed that Sarkozy had promised to intervene to get Azibert a post in Monaco, she said.

Sarkozy's lawyer Jacqueline Laffont lashed out at the flaws and 'emptiness' of the prosecutor's accusations, with the defence also claiming that the tapped conversations had been just 'chats between friends'.

Azibert, who was a senior adviser at France's highest appeals court at the time, never got the job in Monaco.

Sarkozy's lawyers argued this pointed to the absence of corruption, but prosecutors said French law makes no distinction between a successful corruption attempt and a failed one.

Sarkozy was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair but still faces a raft of other legal woes.

On March 17 he is scheduled to face a second trial over accusations of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 re-election bid.

He has also been charged over allegations he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.

And in January, prosecutors opened another probe into alleged influence-peddling by Sarkozy over his advisory activities in Russia.

The Paris home Sarkozy shares with Ms Bruni was raided by fraud squad officers within two days of him losing his presidential immunity from prosecution in 2012. 

Sarkozy's long-running legal travails helped sink his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but he has surfed on a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018.

Lines of fans queued over last summer to have him sign his latest memoir, 'The Time of Storms', which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

In 2011, Sarkozy's one-time political mentor and predecessor as president, the late Jacques Chirac, was convicted of embezzlement and misusing public funds.

He was tried in absentia, however, because of his alleged poor health at the time.

Chirac's crimes related to his time as Paris Mayor, and he was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Before that, Marshal Philippe Pétain, France's wartime leader, was found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis.

He was given a death sentence, but because of his age and First World War record this was later reduced to prison.

Sarkozy's appearance in the dock comes as France drops the convention that the country's executive is in a 'sacred'position, and so above the law.

Instead, there is growing frustration at the way politicians have used public funds for their own benefit.

In June last year, Sarkozy's former Prime Minister François Fillon and his British wife, Penelope Fillon, were given prison sentences after being found guilty of fraud.

Judges sitting at the Paris Correctional Court ruled that the couple had created fake jobs that paid Mrs Fillon the equivalent of close to £1million in public funds.

Fillon, 66, was given a five-year sentence, with three years suspended, while his 65-year-old wife received a three-year suspended sentence. Both have appealed their sentence.  


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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