Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal problems
The Bettencourt case was eventually dropped, but by then an investigation into corruption and influence peddling had been opened.
The judge Christine Mée, the president of the tribunal, said there was serious evidence of a “corruption pact” between Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert. Herzog, aged 65, and Azibert, 73, were given similar sentences of three years, two suspended.
The case, based on telephone taps, became known as the “Bismuth affair”; Paul Bismuth was the name the former president employed in connection to two burner telephones used to communicate with Herzog.
French detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared €50m donation from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
What they heard from the recorded conversations pointed investigators in a new and unexpected direction. They revealed the former president and Herzog were “secretly” communicating using mobile telephones registered under false names.
Additional wiretaps on these phones picked up conversations suggesting Sarkozy had been in contact with Azibert, then a member of the cour de cassation – the highest court in France – via Herzog to request confidential information about the Bettencourt case.
Sarkozy, who is embroiled in several legal cases, has repeatedly denied accusations of any wrongdoing in all past and present investigations.
He spent years attempting to have the Bismuth charges thrown out and the case dismissed. Herzog argued the secretly recorded conversations between him and Sarkozy were covered by client-lawyer privilege and could not be used as evidence.
Before his trial last year, Sarkozy had said he welcomed the hearing as a chance to “clean my name”.
“I am combative. I have no intention of being accused of things I haven’t done. I’m not corrupt and what has been inflicted on me is a scandal that will rest in the annals. The truth will out,” Sarkozy told BFMTV.
The former president is expected to appear in court later this month in yet another case, the “Bygmalion affair”, in which he is accused of overspending on his 2012 re-election bid.
He is also being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanour” related to consulting activities in Russia.
Sarkozy supporters have accused French judges of making the former president the target of an unfair and relentless legal crusade.
He is the first former president to appear in court on criminal charges. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was charged and convicted, receiving a two-year suspended sentence, over fake jobs at City Hall when he was mayor of Paris – but was spared taking the stand because of ill health.
At the end of his two-week trial last year, Sarkozy’s said: “This case has been for me the stations of the cross. But if that was the price to pay for the truth to come out, I am ready to accept it … I still have confidence in the justice of our country.”
Herzog was also convicted of breaching the rules of professional secrecy between him and his client. Herzog and Azibert have announced they will appeal against their conviction.
After the verdict, Damien Abad, the president of LR’s parliamentary group, tweeted: “Today I want to again express my friendship with President Nicolas Sarkozy. His life has been a succession of trials that he has never ceased to overcome with energy and courage. Once again he will prove this. I am certain of it.”
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