PARIS: A French court found former president Nicolas Sarkozy guilty on Monday (Mar 1) of trying to bribe a judge and influence peddling, making him the second head of state in modern-day France to be convicted of corruption.
This is also the first time in France’s modern history that a former president has been convicted of corruption.
Sarkozy was sentenced to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence. The court said he is entitled to request to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.
Prosecutors told the court the 66-year-old, who led France from 2007 to 2012 and remains influential among conservatives, should be jailed for four years and serve at least two.
Sarkozy’s co-defendants — his lawyer and longtime friend Thierry Herzog, 65, and now-retired magistrate Gilbert Azibert, 74 — were also found guilty and given the same sentence as the politician.
The court found that Sarkozy and his co-defendants sealed a “pact of corruption”, based on “consistent and serious evidence”.
The court said the facts were “particularly serious” given that they were committed by a former president who used his status to help a magistrate who had served his personal interest.
In addition, as a lawyer by training, he was “perfectly informed” about committing an illegal action, the court said.
During his testimony, Sarkozy said he was the victim of lies and denied ever committing an act of corruption.
"Never. Never abused my influence, alleged or real," he told the court in December. "What right do they have to drag me through the mud like this for six years? Is there no rule of law?"
Prosecutors allege Sarkozy offered to secure a plum job in Monaco for judge Gilbert Azibert in return for confidential information about an inquiry into accusations that he had accepted illegal payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.
This came to light, they say, while they were wiretapping conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog after Sarkozy left office, in relation to another investigation into alleged Libyan financing of that 2007 campaign.
Azibert, at the time a magistrate at France's top appeals court for criminal cases and well-informed on the Bettencourt inquiry, did not get the job in Monaco.
Prosecutors are seeking the same punishment for Azibert and Herzog, who are on trial alongside Sarkozy.
Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, is the only other president under France's post-war Fifth Republic to have faced trial after leaving office.
Chirac, who died in 2019, was found guilty in 2011 of presiding over a system of ghost jobs in Paris City Hall for political cronies when he was mayor of the capital. Handed a two-year suspended sentence, Chirac escaped serving time in jail.