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Nicolas Sarkozy’s ex-chief of staff jailed over polling fraud

The former chief of staff of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was handed a new jail sentence Friday, adding to a long list of convictions stemming from the right-winger's 2007-2012 term in office.

Claude Gueant trial in France
Former Interior Minister Claude Gueant arrives for his trial in the case. Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Claude Guéant, considered one of Sarkozy’s closest confidants, went on trial in October along with four other aides and allies over accusations they misused public money while ordering public opinion polls worth a combined €7.5 million.

Guéant, who is already in jail over a separate offence, was handed a one-year prison sentence by a court in Paris on Friday, with a requirement to serve a minimum of eight months.

Writer and one-time Sarkozy advisor Patrick Buisson was handed a two-year suspended sentence and a €150,000 fine, while former cabinet director Emmanuelle Mignon was given a six-month suspended sentence.

Former pollster and consultant Pierre Giacometti was also convicted and handed a six-month suspended sentence and a fine of €70,000.

They were accused of ordering polls for Sarkozy in secret and without competition, breaking French laws on public financing that require transparency and competitive bidding.

Former Sarkozy aide Julien Vaulpré was the only one of the five accused to be cleared.

Sarkozy was not targeted directly and had refused to testify as a witness until compelled to do so by a judge.

In September last year, a separate court handed Sarkozy a one-year prison sentence for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, seven months after he received a jail term for corruption.

The 66-year-old, who is appealing both of those convictions, has also been charged over suspicions he received millions of euros for his 2007 election campaign from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Kadhafi.

Guéant, 77, was jailed in December after he was found to have failed to pay a fine and damages to the state relating to a previous sentence, handed down in 2017, for operating a suspected slush fund.

He immediately announced an appeal against Friday’s sentence.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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