French Ex-President Sarkozy’s Trial for Corruption Suspended

PARIS (AP) -
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the courtroom, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

The trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling was suspended Monday less than two hours after it started, to allow a medical report on one of the defendants.

Sarkozy is accused of having tried to illegally obtain information from a magistrate about an investigation involving him in 2014.

This is the first trial for the 65-year-old politician, who has faced several other judicial investigations since leaving office in 2012.

He stands trial in a Paris court along with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73.

They face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($1.2 million.) They deny any wrongdoing.

Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into suspected illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

The Paris court has been placed under high security as hearings in the case, scheduled until Dec. 10, are taking place at the same time as another key trial — that of the 2015 attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket.

In 2014, Sarkozy and Herzog used secret mobile phones — registered to the alias name of “Paul Bismuth” — to be be able to have private talks as they feared their conversations were being tapped.

Sarkozy and Herzog explained that they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal phone tapping.

Investigative judges, however, suspect they actually wanted to avoid being tapped by investigators.

Judges have found that discussions between Sarkozy and his lawyer suggested they had knowledge that judicial investigators at the time tapped their conversations on their official phones — they mentioned “judges listening.”

Sarkozy argued that he never intervened to help Azibert, who never got the job and retired in 2014.

Investigative judges consider that as soon as a deal has been offered, it constitutes a criminal offence even if the promises haven’t been fulfilled.

Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money, breach of trust and conflict of interest and given a two-year suspended prison sentence for actions during his time as Paris mayor, before he was president from 1995 to 2007.

Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial investigations.

Allegations, which include illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, cast a shadow over Sarkozy’s comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential election.

Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges including “illegal campaign financing” in the Libyan investigation, which has been underway since 2013 — and prompted the wiretapping of his phones.

Meanwhile, the former president will stand another trial in spring 2021 along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

His conservative party and a company named Bygmalion are accused of using a special invoice system to conceal unauthorized overspending.

They are suspected of having spent 42.8 million euros ($50.7 million), almost twice the maximum authorized, to finance the campaign, which ended up in victory for Socialist rival Francois Hollande.