Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears for “illegal campaign financing”

© KEYSTONE/AP/Christophe Ena

“Where’s the wild campaign? Where’s the massive gold campaign?” Before the court where he appears for the excessive spending of his 2012 campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy vehemently defended himself from any excess.

In the early afternoon, he entered the courtroom, looking serious, wearing a black suit and mask, a white shirt.

Since the opening of the trial on May 20, he had not attended any hearing and was represented by his lawyer, Me Thierry Herzog.

“What interests the court is how the campaign was organized,” begins President Caroline Viguier. “Who, how, what?”

“I have been in politics for 40 years, it’s my life, the countryside, I know,” replied Mr. Sarkozy. “I have never seen a campaign, large or small, that does not accelerate”. “My 2012 campaign is like a sister to my 2007 campaign”.

“There was no runaway”, he insists, “it’s a fable”. The campaign was “dynamic”, but “we made the same cities, the same rooms as the other candidates”.

After 10 minutes of hearing, the mask slipped under his nose, over his packed demonstrations. He punctuates them with large gestures, turning in turn to the court and the representatives of the prosecution, or calling his co-defendants as witnesses.

Several times the president stops him. He lowers a tone, “sorry Madam President”, before resuming more beautifully, speaking as if at a meeting.

Unlike his 13 co-defendants who listen to him, impassive – former executives of Bygmalion and the UMP, campaign director, accountants – Mr. Sarkozy is not being tried for the double billing system imagined to hide the explosion in spending authorized during his campaign.

He appears for “illegal campaign financing” only, and faces a year of imprisonment and a fine of 3,750 euros.

On the organization of the forty meetings, he gave “no” instructions, he said. Yes, two, he recalls. “A good sound system, I didn’t want to break my voice, I’m not Patrick Bruel. And on TV, I don’t look pale”.

All the same, says the president, the “grandiose” meeting of Villepinte for example – cost estimated at 6 million euros -, had used videos at “360 degrees”, of an “exceptional scenography”, “of a tailor-made scene “, or even” music specially created for the event “.

“Villepinte is a hangar, there is a tailor-made stage otherwise there is no stage,” he sweeps away. And the music, “a friend of Carla’s made it, for free”.

“It was happening”

The President wants to know if she has been kept informed of the evolution of expenses.

“I am President of the Republic”, repeats Mr. Sarkozy at will. “Either I am the Elysee doing my job as president, or I am on the roads” for meetings.

“I don’t have time to devote to an accounting point. As soon as it works, and everyone told me it was okay, I had no reason to worry about it.”

The prosecution believes that Mr. Sarkozy let spending slip, despite several clear alerts on the risk of overruns, and thus “undoubtedly” benefited from fraud, which allowed him to have “means much greater” than what authorized by law: at least 42.8 million in total, nearly double the legal ceiling at the time.

During the trial, three former Bygmalion executives described how the UMP (now Les Républicains) asked them to set up the system of false invoices. At the party, only Jérôme Lavrilleux recognized the existence of fraud.

But Nicolas Sarkozy does not believe in this thesis. “This campaign did not cost what they say,” he maintains.

“There have been false invoices and fictitious agreements, it is proven,” continues Mr. Sarkozy. But “the money was not in my campaign, otherwise it would have been seen. One would have said: + Sarkozy has gone mad, he gives caviar to the public at his meetings +”, he shouts again.

Taken over by the president, he apologizes again. “I’m in court and I defend my honor with passion. It’s not a show, I know.”

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