Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison, two of which were suspended, after a Paris court found the former French president guilty of corruption and influence peddling.
Sarkozy, who has maintained his innocence and who will appeal, is the second French leader under the Fifth Republic to be sentenced after leaving office. The late Jacques Chirac was given a suspended prison sentence in 2011 for abusing public funds by hiring fictitious employees during his previous term as mayor of Paris.
The court found on Monday that Sarkozy had entered a corruption pact with his lawyer Thierry Herzog and former judge Gilbert Azibert. Herzog and Azibert each received the same sentence as Sarkozy.
The 66-year-old retired politician, who is still popular with center-right voters, communicated with Herzog using a secret phone line on behalf of the fictitious “Paul Bismuth”, but the line was in turn overheard by police as part of a separate investigation.
Prosecutors said Sarkozy promised in 2014 to help Azibert find a job in Monaco in exchange for information related to another, now closed, case in which Sarkozy was accused of accepting illegal funds from Liliane Bettencourt , the heir to L’Oréal, for her success in the 2007 presidential election campaign.
Azibert never got the job in Monaco but the court ruled that the offer in exchange for confidential information was sufficient proof of corruption.
Sarkozy, as guarantor of the independence of the judiciary, “used his status as former president to favor a judge who had served his personal interest,” said judge Christine Mée.
Jacqueline Laffont, Sarkozy’s lawyer, said: “There are dozens of clients found guilty at first instance who are found not guilty on appeal, and Nicolas Sarkozy will be one of them.”
Herzog and Azibert will also appeal, their lawyers said.
Christian Jacob, leader of Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party, expressed his support for the former president. “The severity of the sentence imposed is totally disproportionate and demonstrates judicial harassment,” he said. on Twitter.
Carla Bruni, the singer who is Sarkozy’s wife, wrote on Instagram: “What a persecution, my love @nicolassarkozy. . . the struggle continues, the truth will come out #injustice.
Sarkozy, who was described by former US leader Barack Obama in his autobiography as “all emotional outbursts and exaggerated rhetoric” with “his chest pushed out like that of a bantam rooster,” was president from 2007 to 2012. He now sits on the board of directors of the Accor hotel group, the Lagardère distribution and publishing group and the hotel and casino operator Groupe Barrière.
The former leader of the Les Républicains party continues to pay particular attention to French politics and has been consulted by President Emmanuel Macron, who has chosen Sarkozy’s protégé Gérald Darmanin as Minister of the Interior responsible for combating extremism Islamist.
In addition to the corruption case for which he was convicted on Monday, Sarkozy is involved in other protracted legal battles and judicial inquiries.
A series of requests has been completed alleged Libyan funding of his 2007 presidential bid, and another – for which he is due to stand trial this month – on charges he broke campaign funding limits by spending more than € 20m in his unsuccessful campaign in 2012 against his socialist rival François Hollande.
François Fillon, Prime Minister of Sarkozy during his five-year term at the Elysee Palace, was sentenced to prison last year for embezzlement after paying his British wife Penelope over € 1million in public funds for parliamentary work she never did.
This scandal emerged in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election, derailing Fillon’s campaign – he had been the frontrunner – and paving the way for Macron’s victory.
The allies of Sarkozy and Fillon have asserted that some in the French legal system, in particular in the financial prosecutor’s office set up under Hollande, are targeting their right-wing rivals.
Valérie Boyer, senator from Bouches-du-Rhône to the Republicans, deemed her “curious” that her two main political scalps had been eminent center-right politicians.