France will experience an unprecedented event tomorrow: a former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is on the dock for corruption and influence peddling, for which he faces up to ten years in prison if convicted.
President between 2007 and 2012, Sarkozy also faces two other legal cases, with an already certain trial that will take place next year, which forms a complicated judicial situation, although the former conservative politician maintains his innocence and insists on being the victim of a broad conspiracy against him.
Sarkozy, 65, retired from politics since 2016, will appear before a criminal court for the alleged attempt, along with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, to corrupt a magistrate who was then a general counsel before the Supreme Court, Gilbert Azibert.
The indictment maintains that Sarkozy and Herzog offered Azibert a seat on the Council of State of Monaco in exchange for help in another judicial investigation against the former president.
All three are accused of the same crimes of corruption (active or passive) and influence peddling, and in Herzog’s case there is a violation of professional secrecy. They all face the same request for penalties from the prosecution: up to ten years in prison and a penalty of one million euros.
KEY PHONE CONVERSATIONS
The case is based on a telephone conversation between Sarkozy and Herzog, in which both allegedly discussed how they had offered Azibert the position if he helped the politician learn the status of an investigation into the alleged receipt of funds from billionaire Liliane Bettencourt ( of the cosmetic group L’Oreal) for the irregular financing of his presidential campaign of 2007.
In order to investigate this case, Sarkozy was placed under wiretap by investigators at the end of 2013 after receiving judicial authorization.
Thus it was discovered in 2014 that he had another telephone line, under the assumed name of Paul Bismouth, from which he maintained the possible conspiracy with his lawyer, which was recorded by investigators.
“I will help her, I will promote her,” said the former president in one of the conversations of which some fragments have been disclosed.
In France, communications between client and lawyer are secret, but there is an exception when the lawyer participates in the alleged commission of a criminal act.
Finally, Sarkozy and Herzog did not go ahead with the plan. The Monegasque authorities affirm that they were not contacted by the former president about this matter and, for these two defendants, it is the proof that they are innocent.
The prosecution maintains that someone within the Justice apparatus notified them of the wiretapping, so they backed down and tried to hide in the last conversations in that secret line. A separate investigation to try to find the alleged mole ended with no results.
In its accusation document, presented in October 2017, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office considered that the accused acted as “expert criminals.”
The strategy advanced by the defense will be based on affirming that there is no evidence that he actually did anything in favor of Azibert and on denouncing the violation of the secrecy of his communications with his lawyer.
The trial begins tomorrow and is scheduled to conclude on December 10, but the dates could change if a lawsuit to postpone the defense of Azibert, 73, on health grounds, is successful.
In addition, this process, like other important ones that are currently taking place in France, is subject to possible unexpected incidents related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Seeing a former president on the bench is something totally new in France. When the late Jacques Chirac (president between 1995 and 2007) was tried and convicted in 2011 in the case of the fictitious jobs of the mayor of Paris, he avoided appearing in court on the grounds of his fragile state of health.
TWO OTHER CASES AGAINST SARKOZY
And this is just the first of three court proceedings facing the former conservative politician, popularly known as “Sarko”.
In the first place, the investigation against him for the alleged financing of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime of his 2007 presidential campaign is well advanced. In October, he was formally charged with association of criminals.
Finally, between March and April next year, he will also sit on the bench for allegedly illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign, in which he was defeated by the socialist François Hollande.
The former president maintains his innocence in all cases and claims to be the victim of “a political plot” by the investigating judges.
Sarkozy’s accusations have been so harsh that this week several judicial associations denounced before the National Council of the Magistracy “unacceptable and intolerable pressure” on the judges.
Another attraction of the trial that begins tomorrow will be Sarkozy’s defense lawyer, Hervé Temime, known as “the lawyer of the powerful.”
Temime is famous in France for having represented celebrities and millionaires in different processes, including from the world of cinema such as Gérard Depardieu, Roman Polanksi, Nathalie Baye or Catherine Deneuve, millionaire entrepreneurs such as Jacques Servier or Alain Afflelou or the businessman and former president of the club Olympique de Marseille football player Bernard Tapie.