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CRIME

Ex French president Sarkozy takes the stand in his corruption trial

French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday said he "never committed the slightest act of corruption" and vowed to go "all the way" to clear his name at his landmark graft trial.

Ex French president Sarkozy takes the stand in his corruption trial
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at court. Photo: AFP

The 65-year-old rightwinger, who led France from 2007 to 2012, is the country's first modern head of state to appear in the dock.

In one of several cases against him he is accused of trying to bribe a judge with a plum retirement job in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

He risks a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of €1 million if convicted of corruption and influence-peddling.

Defending himself in court for the first time on Monday, Sarkozy said he relished the prospect of getting a fair hearing after being “dragged through the mud for six years”.

“What did I do to deserve this?” asked Sarkozy, who wore a dark suit and a surgical mask under his nose, vowing to “go all the way for the truth”. The courtroom was as packed as virus restrictions would permit.

Prosecutors say he and his lawyer Thierry Herzog tried to bribe judge Gilbert Azibert in return for information on an inquiry into claims Sarkozy had received illicit payments from late L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

The state's case is based on wiretaps of conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy, something the former president denounced during his address to the court.

Azibert was a senior advisor at France's highest appeals court at the time. He never got the job in Monaco.

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

He remains charged over allegations that he received millions of euros in funding from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 election campaign, and he is also accused of fraudulently overspending on his failed 2012 reelection bid.

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 due to ill health.

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

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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