Politicial Bribes

Sarkozy is on trial for seeking to bribe a judge

Newsletter: Europe Express

Nicolas Sarkozy was due to fight allegations of corruption and influence peddling in a high-profile trial set to open on Monday – the first in a series of court cases that could make or break the former political legacy French president.

But proceedings were immediately delayed as one of the politician’s co-defendants argued he could not appear in person due to health concerns, prompting the court to appoint a medical expert to assess him. A decision is expected Thursday.

Once the case begins, prosecutors will lay out their allegations that Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog sought to bribe a judge to obtain information on a separate criminal case involving a politician, his political allies and the late billionaire heiress by L’Oréal Liliane Bettencourt.

For a former president to be forced to appear in court is rare and legal experts have called it a key test for French anti-corruption investigators and judges. The last time a former French leader was tried was in 2011, when Jacques Chirac was convicted of embezzling public funds while he was mayor of Paris.

Mr Sarkozy, who ruled the country from 2007 to 2012, is due to stand a separate campaign finance trial in March for allegedly spending more than € 20 million on his failed 2012 reelection bid. last, he was also the subject of a formal investigation. for criminal conspiracy to allegedly accept illegal funding from Libya under its leader Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 campaign. He has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

In recent years, Mr Sarkozy – a lawyer by training – has taken on a larger role in business as an advisor to some of the largest French companies. He 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 president also enjoys continued influence in politics as a power behind the throne center-right, and many of his former collaborators and allies still hold positions of power in regional governments or in the administration of President Emmanuel Macron.

Thierry Herzog, Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawyer, is also on trial © AFP via Getty Images

French investigators came across suspected corruption after they began monitoring Mr Sarkozy’s communications in 2013 as part of an investigation into whether his successful 2007 presidential campaign received an illegal donation of € 50m of Gaddafi.

They had Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer Mr Herzog bugged for months, and so they learned of their job offer to try Gilbert Azibert in exchange for information.

The defendants, Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Herzog and Mr. Azibert, face up to 10 years in prison and heavy fines if found guilty. They all claimed their innocence.

Mr Azibert’s lawyers said on Monday that their client’s doctors had advised him against traveling from Bordeaux to Paris to appear in court because he was at risk of developing complications from Covid-19 given his history of heart problems and high blood pressure. Prosecutors offered to attend the trial by videoconference, but Mr. Azibert refused, arguing that he had the right to be present.

A medical expert will assess the matter and judges will announce a decision on how to proceed on Thursday.

In a recent combative television interview, Mr Sarkozy retaliated against what he presented as a multi-year judicial crusade against him. The interview was a response to a key witness, Ziad Takieddine, who recently retracted in Paris Match magazine some of his earlier allegations against Mr Sarkozy in the 2007 Libyan campaign finance case.

“I now know that being innocent doesn’t mean you won’t have legal problems. These trials destroy you or make you a better person. I am combative, “he told BFM TV last week.” The French should know that I am not rotten.

Ziad Takieddine, a key witness, recently returned to some of his allegations against Mr. Sarkozy © AFP via Getty Images

Some of his political allies have raised hopes that Mr Sarkozy might one day return to politics given his continued popularity among more conservative French voters. His former Les Républicains party struggled to rally around a candidate to face Mr. Macron in the 2022 presidential election.

Mr. Sarkozy seemed to exclude such a return when questioned about it by BFM. “I turned the page and I’m happy like that. I am now fighting for truth and for justice.


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