A French court on Monday convicted former President Nicolas Sarkozy on charges of corruption and influence peddling, handing him a three-year prison sentence of which two years are suspended.
Sarkozy was accused of offering to help a judge obtain a senior job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.
Taking into account the two years suspended, the sentence of one year jail means it is unlikely Sarkozy will physically go to prison, a punishment that in France usually applies to jail terms of above two years.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial in March on charges of campaign finance violations during his failed 2012 re-election bid, prosecutors said Thursday.
Sarkozy, who already faces a separate trial for corruption involving a judge, is accused of spending nearly double the legal campaign spending limit of 22.5 million euros ($26.6 million).
The trial was ordered last year after his lawyers failed with legal manoeuvres to avoid prosecution. If convicted he risks a one-year prison sentence.
Investigators claim that Sarkozy’s campaign used fake invoices to get around the campaign spending limits.
But Sarkozy, 65, has claimed he was unaware of a fraud he says was orchestrated by executives at the public relations firm Bygmalion.
Thirteen other people, including a number of Bygmalion executives, have also been charged in the case, scheduled to run from March 17 to April 15.
In October, Sarkozy will become the country’s first former head of state to stand trial on corruption charges, in a case where he is accused of trying to secure classified information from a judge.
Prosecutors say he offered to help the judge obtain a cushy post in Monaco in exchange for the information, leading to charges of corruption and influence peddling.
Sarkozy has been charged over accusations by former members of Moamer Kadhafi’s regime that he accepted millions from the slain Libyan dictator, some of it delivered in cash-stuffed suitcases, for his first presidential campaign in 2007.
He is appealing the charge, and a hearing is expected this month.
Despite his legal woes, Sarkozy is currently enjoying a surge in sales for his latest memoirs, “The Time of Storms,” which recounts the first two years of his presidency.
French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy blasted what he said was a lack of evidence for corruption charges against him over claims the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi funded his 2007 election campaign, in his court statement published Thursday.
The day after he was charged in France’s most explosive political scandals in decades, the 63-year-old rightwinger said in the statement published by the Figaro newspaper that he had been in “living hell” since the allegations emerged in 2011.
Demanding he be treated as a witness rather than a suspect, he urged magistrates to consider “the violence of the injustice” if it was proven, as he claims, that the accusations are a “manipulation by the dictator Kadhafi or his gang”.
“In the 24 hours of my detention I have tried with all my might to show that the serious corroborating evidence required to charge someone did not exist,” Sarkozy said.
“I stand accused without any tangible evidence through comments made by Mr Kadhafi, his son, his nephew, his cousin, his spokesman, his former prime minister,” he added, ahead of a television interview on Thursday night.
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Kadhafi — whom he helped to topple in 2011 — are the most serious out of myriad investigations dogging him since he left office in 2012.
Judges decided they had enough evidence to charge the combative one-term president Wednesday after five years of investigation and two days of questioning in police custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Sarkozy, who served as president from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money, a judiciary source told AFP.
“I’ve been living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the allegations first emerged, Sarkozy said.
He will have six months to appeal the charges, and judges will have to make a further decision about whether they have sufficient proof to take the case to trial.
– Suitcases of cash? –
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi’s ousted regime, including his son Seif al-Islam, that Sarkozy’s campaign received cash from the dictator.
A few months after his 2007 election Sarkozy gave Kadhafi the red-carpet treatment during a state visit which critics denounced as an attempt to rehabilitate an international pariah long accused of human rights abuses.
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were driving Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
The revelations came as Sarkozy was trying to win re-election, but he ultimately lost the 2012 race to Socialist Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Kadhafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Kadhafi’s 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
He has also sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya’s intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($62 million).
In his court statement Sarkozy lashed out at Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, who claims to have delivered three cash-stuffed suitcases from Kadhafi in 2006 and 2007, when Sarkozy was preparing his first run for president.
Takieddine, who claimed he provided a total of five million euros in three suitcases to Sarkozy and his then chief of staff Claude Gueant, has “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”, Sarkozy said.
“I would like to remind you that he has no proof of any meeting with me during this period 2005-2011.”
Takieddine, after Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday night, had retorted: “I’m not the liar here.”
The legal investigation is also looking into a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy’s former interior minister Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
Le Monde newspaper further reported that other former regime officials have stepped forward alleging illicit financing.
– First ex-president in custody –
In 2014 Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption — his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.
Sarkozy has stepped back from frontline politics since his failed re-election bid, but he still holds considerable influence with his rightwing Republicans party.
The party has so far backed him publicly.
“Being charged does not necessarily mean you are guilty,” said Republicans leader Laurent Wauquiez.
French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Tuesday over allegations that late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi financed his 2007 election campaign, including with suitcases stuffed with cash, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Sarkozy was taken into police custody early Tuesday morning and was being questioned by officers specialising in corruption, money laundering and tax evasion at their office in the western Parisian suburb of Nanterre.
The 63-year-old was summoned for questioning in France’s most explosive political financing scandal, one of several legal probes that have dogged the right-winger since he left office after one term in 2012.
Sarkozy’s detention was first reported by the Mediapart investigative news site and French daily Le Monde.
AFP’s source said that Brice Hortefeux, a close ally who served as a senior minister during Sarkozy’s presidency, was also questioned Tuesday as part of the inquiry.
Since 2013, investigating magistrates have been probing media reports, as well as statements by Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, that claimed funds were provided for Sarkozy’s first tilt at the presidency.
“Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign,” Seif told the Euronews network in 2011 as NATO-backed forces were driving his father out of power.
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Libyan regime members who were furious over France’s military intervention in Libya that helped end Kadhafi’s 41-year rule and led to his death.
He has also sued Mediapart, which has driven media coverage of the Libyan allegations since 2012 when it published a document allegedly signed by Libya’s intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi had agreed to fund Sarkozy to the tune of 50 million euros ($62 million).
The case drew heightened scrutiny in November 2016 when a Franco-Lebanese businessman admitted delivering three cash-stuffed suitcases from the Libyan leader in 2006 and 2007 as contributions towards Sarkozy’s first presidential run.
In an interview, again with Mediapart, Ziad Takieddine claimed he dropped 1.5 to 2 million euros in 200-euro and 500-euro notes each time and was given the money by Kadhafi’s military intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.
When asked about the allegations during a televised debate in 2016, Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and said the businessman was a “liar” who had been convicted “countless times for defamation”.
The legal investigation is looking into these allegations, as well as a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy ally Claude Gueant, and the sale of a luxury villa in 2009 in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund for an allegedly inflated price.
– Ties to Libya –
Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant father who takes a hard line on Islam and French identity, was nicknamed the “bling-bling” president during his time in office for his flashy displays of wealth.
He failed with a bid to run again for president in November 2016 and has stepped back from frontline politics since then, though he remains a powerful figure behind the scenes at the rightwing Republicans party.
Seven months after his 2007 presidential victory, Sarkozy invited Kadhafi to Paris and clinched major arms and nuclear energy sales to the oil-rich north African country, which has since descended into civil war.
The Libyan autocrat was allowed to pitch his Bedouin-style tent on a lawn in central Paris and attended a dinner at the presidential palace, which was boycotted by several of Sarkozy’s ministers.
It is not the first time that Sarkozy has been detained: he became the first French president to enter police custody in July 2014 over a separate inquiry into claims that he tried to interfere in one of the several investigations targeting him.
He was taken into custody on Tuesday after another former associate, Swiss businessman Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London in January.
– Other cases –
Investigating magistrates have recommended Sarkozy face trial on separate charges of illegal campaign financing over his failed 2012 re-election bid.
The prosecution claims Sarkozy spent nearly double the legal limit of 22.5 million euros ($24 million) on his lavish campaign, using false billing from a public relations firm called Bygmalion.
He faces up to a year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros if convicted, but he is appealing the decision to send him to trial, claiming he knew nothing about the fraudulent practices that Bygmalion executives have admitted to.
Only one other French president — Jacques Chirac — has been tried in France’s Fifth Republic, which was founded in 1958. He was given a two-year suspended jail term in 2011 over a fake jobs scandal.
France’s Far-right National front (FN) party has suffered a shocking defeat in the second round of municipal elections after preliminary results showed that it failed to win a single region.
This means that the party has been beaten into third place, despite leading in six of 13 regions in the first round of voting.
Former President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right republicans are set to win most seats ahead of the ruling socialists.
Acknowledging defeat, FN Leader, Marine Le Pen, pledged to keep fighting. She blamed the outcome on the mainstream parties which joined forces to keep the FN from power, telling her supporters they had been “disenfranchised in the most indecent ways by a campaign of lies and disinformation”.
She had stood as a regional presidential candidate in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, while her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, was the FN’s candidate in the race in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, in the south.
After both led with more than 40 per cent of the vote in the first round on December 6, the Socialist candidates in those regions pulled out so their voters could support Republican candidates in the second round.
The FN actually increased its votes in the second round to more than 6.8 million, from 6.02 million on December 6 as more people voted, according to the Ministry of Interior (In French). But the FN share of the vote went down slightly from 27.73 per cent to 27.36 per cent.
The Republicans increased their share from 26.65 per cent to 40.63 per cent and the Socialists from 23.12 per cent to 29.14 per cent.
The overall turnout increased from 22.6 million on December 6 to 26.2 million on Sunday. Sunday’s figures were based on a count of 98 per cent of votes so far.
A court in France has suspended the corruption investigation against former President Nicolas Sarkozy, French media say.
Reports quote judicial sources as saying that Paris appeal court will now study a request by Mr Sarkozy for the case to be dismissed.
However, the 59 years old Sarkozy is not out of the woods yet as he still has several other judicial cases to answer.
Mr Sarkozy has kept a low profile since leaving office but Last week he declared his intention to seek the leadership of the opposition UMP party, a move widely seen as his first step towards a presidential bid in 2017.
His announcement ended months of speculation about the intentions of the conservative former president, who vowed to give up politics after he failed to re-election in 2012.
The UMP party elections are due to be held in November.
Although he has faced a series of investigations that involve him in some capacity
The suspended case relates to an alleged attempt to influence judges who were looking into his affairs.
The BBC quoted AFP report as saying that the suspension could last several months.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says there are too many foreigners in France and has pledged to cut the number of new arrivals in half.
In his words, “Our system of integration is working more and more badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school”.
Sarkozy stressed that while immigration could remain a boon for France in many areas, it must be tightly controlled through tougher residency qualifications for newcomers.
“Over the five-year term I think that to restart the process of integration in good conditions, we must divide by two the number of people we welcome, that’s to say to pass from 180,000 per year to 100,000,” he said.
Sarkozy also announced new plans to limit some welfare benefit payments currently available to immigrant workers to those who have enjoyed residency for 10 years and have worked for five of those.
Earlier, Sarkozy had been accused of moving to the right in the run up to the presidential election in order to recruit voters tempted by anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen.
France will vote in the first round of a presidential election on April 22, followed by a second-round run-off on May 6.