Nicolas Sarkozy’s jail sentence shocks France’s political class

The former French president is convicted of corruption, but is expected to appeal

3/2/2021 1:09:00 PM

The case against Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president, is known as the “eavesdropping” affair

The former French president is convicted of corruption, but is expected to appeal

FOR MUCH of the French Fifth Republic, the modern state established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, criminal cases against elected politicians have often failed either to make it to court or to end in a conviction, let alone a prison sentence. On March 1st a Paris court took a step closer to ending an era of impunity. It found Nicolas Sarkozy, a centre-right president from 2007 to 2012, guilty of corruption and influence-peddling. He was sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended.

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The decision has sent a shockwave through the French political class. This is the first time in modern history that an ex-president has been both handed a prison sentence and convicted of criminal acts relating to his time in the highest office. In 2011 Jacques Chirac, another centre-right former president, was convicted of the misuse of public funds but dating to his term as mayor of Paris in the 1990s; he was handed a two-year suspended sentence. Mr Sarkozy has denied all the allegations and is likely to appeal.

The case against Mr Sarkozy is known as the “eavesdropping” affair. It dates back to 2013, when investigators tapped a mobile phone, taken out for the former president under the pseudonym “Paul Bismuth”. At the time they were looking into allegations that Muammar Qaddafi, the former Libyan leader, had helped to finance the French candidate’s campaign in 2007.

During this inquiry, in 2014, investigators stumbled upon conversations between Mr Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog, then his lawyer. Their exchanges concerned separate illegal party-financing allegations circulating at the time, linked to Liliane Bettencourt, the billionaire heiress to the L’Oréal empire. The case against the former president in the Bettencourt affair had been dropped. But Mr Sarkozy, prosecutors said, wanted to know whether the court would allow the seizure of his diaries in relation to other affairs.

It was during these conversations that investigators uncovered what they called in court this week a “corruption pact”. In return for information relating to the Bettencourt case, the court found, Mr Sarkozy offered to help secure for Gilbert Azibert, a magistrate at the Paris appeals court, a prestigious job in Monaco. (Mr Azibert never got the job.) On March 1st the court also handed Mr Herzog and Mr Azibert three-year prison sentences, of which two years were suspended. Both deny the accusations. Mr Sarkozy, the judge said, who was “the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary, used his status as former president to reward a magistrate for having served his personal interest.”

Mr Sarkozy is unlikely to end up behind bars. The court said that he could use an electronic tag instead of serving time in prison. He is in any case expected to appeal against his conviction, a procedure which could take many months. Christian Jacob, leader of his Republicans party, called the sentencing “absolutely disproportionate”. Friends of Mr Sarkozy point out that even the judge said that the ruling was based on a “

faisceau d’indices“ (body of indications); they say that this does not constitute incontrovertible evidence. In the meantime, on March 17th he is due to appear in court to face separate charges of exceeding party-financing caps, in a case known as “Bygmalion”. The alleged Libyan party-financing case is also still under investigation. Mr Sarkozy denies both of these accusations too. A handful of other cases against the former president have collapsed.

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The conviction of the ex-president comes after a string of cases against French politicians in recent years that have ended up with criminal convictions. These have begun to shift the sense of impunity that used to prevail. The most well-known is that of François Fillon, who was Mr Sarkozy’s former prime minister and a presidential candidate. Last year a court sentenced him to five years in prison, three of them suspended, for the embezzlement of public funds. He is now awaiting his appeal.

The list includes a host of other well-known French political figures. In 2018 Jérôme Cahuzac, a Socialist former economy minister (in charge of clamping down on tax fraud), was given a sentence (for tax fraud) of four years in prison, two of them suspended, although he was later allowed to wear an electronic bracelet in lieu of prison. The following year Claude Guéant, former chief of staff to Mr Sarkozy, was sentenced to a year in prison for misuse of public funds. Patrick Balkany, an ex-deputy from Mr Sarkozy’s party and long-time former mayor of Levallois, spent several months in prison after a conviction for tax fraud, before being allowed out on health grounds.

In one of those defiant twists at which the French excel, the once-hyperkinetic Mr Sarkozy has actually turned out to be more popular since he left office than he was as president, just as Chirac was too in his time. Despite the judicial tangles, time and defeat at the ballot box in 2012 seem to have softened public opinion towards Mr Sarkozy. A recent poll, taken before the verdict, found him to be the sixth-most popular politician in France.

Behind the scenes, the ex-president continues informally to oversee matters relating to the Republicans, his political party. He receives guests at his Paris offices, talking up and down various rival potential nominees ahead of the presidential election in 2022. Some of those close to Mr Sarkozy suggest that, before this week, he had not given up hopes of running again for the presidency.

Read more: The Economist »

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What I found really shocking, in case of sarkozy, is how little the French elites know about Libya although France was a colonization power in North Africa. Simply, you can't mock a Libyan guy in public and keep calling him a friend! Bedouin people don't understand sarcasm. Wish we had a few former presidents or PM's who were sentenced to prison.

No shockmmone group of elites fukking another... This same Sarkozy push for ousting of Muammar Gaddafi and destroyed and turned Libya into a rubble today Shocks? Lot’s of dumb people in the world.