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Sarkozy to appeal conviction for corruption after being handed jail term

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will appeal his conviction for corruption and influence peddling, which saw him handed a three-year prison sentence on Monday, his lawyer said.

Sarkozy to appeal conviction for corruption after being handed jail term
Nicolas Sarkozy learnt his fate on Monday. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

A French court found Sarkozy guilty on charges of corruption and influence peddling, handing him a three-year prison sentence of which two years are suspended.

Sarkozy’s lawyer Jacqueline Laffont called the verdict “extremely severe” and “totally unfounded and unjustified”, adding that the former president was “calm but determined to continue to prove his innocence”.

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

Taking into account the two years suspended, the sentence of one year jail means it is unlikely Sarkozy will physically go to prison, a punishment that in France usually applies to jail terms of above two years.

For the moment the former president remains free, with no arrest warrant issued.

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 judge Gilbert Azibert.

“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 was wound up in December.

The court found that Sarkozy and Herzog tried to bribe judge Azibert for information on 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 was 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.

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.

Allegations that he received millions of euros from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign are still being investigated, and he is also accused of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 reelection bid.

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

News website Mediapart said the probe targeted a payment by Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of €3 million in 2019 when Sarkozy was working as an adviser, well after leaving office.

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.

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.

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POLITICS

French minister: US green plan should be ‘wake-up call’ for EU industry

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Friday said Washington's $430 billion plan to spur climate-friendly technologies in the United States must be seen as a wake-up call for Europe.

French minister: US green plan should be 'wake-up call' for EU industry

The EU “must be able to sweep in front of our own door” before worrying about the effects of the US climate plan on European industry, Le Maire told AFP in Washington, where he was part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s US state visit.

Even though the EU has already “changed its approach” on promoting green industry, the US climate plan must be seen as a “wake-up call” in the European Union, he added.

Le Maire’s comments came as EU countries have poured criticism on Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), seeing it as anti-competitive and a threat to European jobs, especially in the energy and auto sectors.

Subsidies for green energy

The act, designed to accelerate the US transition to a low-carbon economy, contains around $370 billion in subsidies for green energy as well as tax cuts for US-made electric cars and batteries.

Macron on Wednesday slammed the plan’s “Made in USA” provisions as “super aggressive” for European businesses.

But at a joint press conference with Macron, Biden said that he and the French leader had agreed to “discuss practical steps to coordinate and align our approaches”, though he said he would not apologize for the US plan.

Biden added the IRA was never intended to disadvantage any US allies.

Threats of retaliatory measures

Last month, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton threatened to appeal to the World Trade Organization and consider “retaliatory measures” if the United States did not reverse its subsidies.

Le Maire also criticized the EU’s own climate spending plans, arguing that they were too cumbersome and loaded with red tape.

“If the ambition is the same” as the Europeans, the United States relies on methods that “are simpler and faster”, he said.

“They put immediate and massive tax credits where we provide state aid (to specific projects) which sometimes take two years to be adopted and are too complex to implement,” said Le Maire.

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