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.