Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been sentenced three years in prison after being found guilty of corruption and influence peddling.
Sarkozy was accused of forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer and a senior magistrate and was sentenced in court on Monday (1 March).
Judges said there was “serious evidence” of collaboration between Sarkozy, who served as France’s president between 2007 and 2012, and the two men to break the law.
The court heard how Sarkozy instructed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, to offer senior magistrate Gilbert Azibert a job on the Côte d’Azur in return for information on a separate investigation that was centred on the rightwing politician.
Judge Christine Mée, the president of the tribunal, said there was serious evidence of a “corruption pact” between Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert.
The case was based on telephone taps and became known as the “Bismuth affair”. Paul Bismuth was the name Sarkozy employed in connection to two burner phones that were used to communicate with Herzog.
French detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared €50m donation from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
However, the recordings led investigators to reveal the former president and Herzog were ‘secretly’ communicating using mobile phones registered under false names.
Additional wiretaps found conversations that suggested Sarkozy had been in contact with Azibert via Herzog to request confidential information about a separate investigation regarding donations from L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
The Bettencourt case was eventually dropped, but it gave way to an investigation into corruption and influence peddling relating to the wiretaps that had been opened.
Herzog argued that the recorded conversations between him and Sarkozy were covered by client-lawyer privilege and could not be used as evidence.
Both Herzog and Azibert were also given similar sentences, with the verdict announced in a Paris court on Monday (1 March). The three men later left the building without making a statement.
Expected to appeal
Despite being sentenced to three years behind bars, two of the years are suspended and it is unlikely Sarkozy will have to spend any time in jail.
The one-year prison sentence can be served in certain conditions, including the wearing of an electronic bracelet, or being subject to limited home confinement.
It is expected that Sarkozy will appeal against the conviction, although the verdict will quash his hopes of returning to public life in time for 2022’s presidential election.
The former president had repeatedly denied the accusations and spent many years attempting to have the charges thrown out and the case dismissed.
Before his trial last year, Sarkozy had said he welcomed the hearing as a chance to “clean” his name, stating he is “not corrupt” and inisited “the truth will out”.
Sarkozy is expected to appear in court later this month in another case, the “Bygmalion affair”, in which he is accused of overspending on his 2012 re-election bid. He is also being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanour” in relation to consulting activities in Russia.