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France’s Sarkozy appeals prison sentence

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is back in court, appealing his sentence for attempting to secure confidential information from a prosecutor

December 6, 2022
By Rachel Boßmeyer and Michael Evers, dpa
6 December 2022

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has appeared in court again, in an appeal against a guilty verdict from March 2021 for bribery and undue influence.

The sentence at the time was three years in prison, two of them suspended.

At the start of his trial before the appeals court, Sarkozy, 67, protested his innocence: “Where is the evidence? There is no evidence. I am defending my pride here.”

The conservative politician was head of state between 2007 and 2012.

According to the court, Sarkozy attempted in 2014 to secure confidential information from prosecutor Gilbert Azibert regarding a different case via his lawyer, Thierry Herzog. Azibert would in return receive presidential support in applying for a post in Monaco.

All three were found guilty, receiving similar sentences, with the court describing their crimes as serious, as they had been committed by a former head of state. Sarkozy’s actions had jeopardised the independence of the judiciary, the prosecution argued.

The sentence was the most severe handed down to a former president in the history of the Fifth Republic, which was founded in 1958.

Herzog and Azibert were also convicted in the first instance and are now also on trial again. The appeal is scheduled to last until December 16.

The accusations are based on wiretapped telephone conversations between the politician and his lawyer. There was a dispute about the legality of this wiretapping.

Investigators found out that Sarkozy and Herzog used mobile phones for confidential conversations, which the ex-president had acquired under a pseudonym.

On Monday, an outraged Sarkozy argued that the communication between lawyer and client had been confidential and the wiretapping illegal. A total of 3500 of his telephone calls had been intercepted.

The appeal is unlikely to be the end of Sarkozy’s legal difficulties.

In September 2021, another court sentenced Sarkozy to one year for illegal campaign funding. He had exceeded permissible spending levels during his failed 2012 re-election campaign by at least 20 million euro ($A31 million), it found.

Sarkozy’s party was found to have concealed the payments through a system of false accounts, The court found that, while Sarkozy had not devised the system, he had ignored warnings and continued to campaign. He has appealed this sentence as well.

The conservative’s term in office at the Élysée Palace was already marked by affairs involving rich friends, intemperate members of government and nepotism. The former darling of the right finally lost to the Socialist Francois Hollande in 2012.

Sarkozy is still regarded as an icon by many supporters, but leading figures in the conservative Les Républicains (The Republicans) are now trying to distance themselves from him.

While in the past he fuelled speculation about a possible political comeback, he is now burdened by his convictions.

He may also face yet further proceedings. The judiciary has been investigating Libya’s alleged payments for his 2007 election campaign for years. Sarkozy rejects all accusations here as well.

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