One year of imprisonment, and after serving this part of the sentence - another two years probation. Nicolas Sarkozy, until recently an almost all-powerful French politician and president of France in 2007-2012, received such a sentence in court.
"Like thunder", "unprecedented sentence" - similar headlines reacted to many French media.
Sarkozy was convicted of corruption and "abuse of influence." "He used his status and political and diplomatic ties to reward the judge for a service to his personal interests," the court president said in a statement.
Along with Sarkozy, his former lawyer, Thierry Erzog, and former judge Gilbert Aziber were on trial. They received identical sentences.
"We will prepare an appeal against this decision ... It completely contradicts what happened at the hearings," said Jacqueline Lafon, a lawyer for the former president, calling the verdict excessively harsh and completely unfounded.
However, it is possible that the trouble for former President Sarkozy is just beginning. This case, known as the "wiretapping case", is just one of four in which he is involved. The rest concerns the illegal financing of two election campaigns and the ambiguous work of a consultant in a firm associated with Russian oligarchs.
All these investigations began after the end of the presidential term, although claims against Sarkozy were heard during his presidency.
But first, why should the ex-president go to prison for the sentence.
Monaco as a gift
Sarkozy is the first president in the history of the Fifth Republic to physically stand trial and receive a real prison term. However, this criminal case could not have happened - if not for the wiretapping of his phone in another investigation, for the illegal financing of his 2007 election campaign, the money for which allegedly came from abroad, from Libya.
A secret telephone registered in the name of the non-existent Paul Bismuth, which the former president used to communicate with his lawyer Thierry Erzog, was intercepted at the time.
This is how investigators came across Sarkozy's talks with a lawyer about the older Betancourt case, which has been going on since 2009: it was about the possible shadow financing of Sarkozy's campaign by the billionaire heiress L'Oreal. The Betancourt case eventually fell apart, with Sarkozy being acquitted, but she seriously worried the former president. He therefore asked the then Judge of the Court of Cassation, Gilbert Aziber, to inform him of the progress of the discussion in this case, as well as to influence the position of the judges on certain procedural issues.
In exchange for this service, Sarkozy was to assist a judge in obtaining a position ... in the court of Monaco.
Yes, this is not a mistake.
The dwarf state of Monaco on the coast of the Ligurian Sea has a shortage of its own lawyers and therefore sometimes invites judges from France, offering them attractive working conditions. And Sarkozy, who "gained" international contacts during his presidency, promised to agree on his protégé with Monaco's Minister of State Michel Roger.
An important detail: in the end, the interim court decision was not what Sarkozy wanted, and Judge Aziber did not get the post. Later, in court, Aziber argued that he did not try to influence colleagues; Sarkozy's lawyers also insisted that there was no crime, as there was no "service" or "thanks" for it. However, the investigation and the court were not convinced - they decided that the very fact of the agreement was enough.
Like NABU, only in France
The case of the ex-president was handled by the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF, le Parquet national financier).
This body is generally similar in function to a mixture of NABU and DBR. His area of authority is major economic and financial crimes, including those related to corruption.
His story adds even more similarity. The PNF was created after Sarkozy's election defeat, at the initiative of his successor, Francois Hollande, to fight top corruption and large-scale economic abuses.
PNF prosecutors asked the former president for four years in prison, two of which could be suspended. The sentence was lenient - but still unprecedented.
In his defense, Sarkozy insists that recording conversations between a client and his lawyer is illegal, and that there was no corruption conspiracy between the three of them.
"What happened is a great injustice that no one can accept. I really can't agree with the verdict for what I didn't do," Sarkozy said in an interview the next day. "Evidence is needed to convict someone in a state governed by the rule of law." .
Was the decision on Sarkozy completely impartial? Such questions are inevitable when it comes to cases against "predecessors".
In the political and media field, there are remarks about the verdict.
In Sarkozy's party, the Republicans called him disproportionately strict. "The severity of the sentence is completely disproportionate and indicates the persistence of the institution in question. We need to shed light on the methods and independence of the PNF," said Republican President Christian Jacob.
The leader of the right-wing populist National Union, Marine Le Pen, considers the National Finance Prosecutor's Office's investigation biased from the beginning and is outraged that "the courts are determining her opponents in the upcoming elections."
However, the authoritative media have both criticism of the verdict and its approval.
The conservative newspaper Le Figaro (generally in favor of Sarkozy's party) included a phrase in its headline about the "malaise of democracy", pointing out that Sarkozy had in fact been sentenced for words from a telephone conversation and that neither Sarkozy nor the judge had the desired result: "Corruption without an object, zero influence… This is an incessant and illegible judicial campaign of the National Financial Prosecutor's Office, where there is wiretapping of lawyers, a mixture of paranoia and obsession with revenge."
The center-right Le Point responded with a publication entitled "Distorted blows of very political justice. Doubtful methods and accountability by the National Finance Prosecutor's Office."
But the left-liberal Liberation - on the contrary, satisfied with the verdict. There it is considered evidence that influential people in France can be brought to real responsibility.
The main thing to note is that it is likely that Sarkozy will not be imprisoned in this case.
He will remain at large during the appeal. Even if he loses the appeal, he will most likely serve his term under house arrest with an electronic bracelet, and not in prison - the court has already allowed the possibility of such mitigation.
Irony: not so long ago, Sarkozy opposed such a possibility.
Twitter contributors have already reminded him of a 2015 post calling for a ban on prison terms of more than six months.
But there is no doubt that this is not the end of Mr Sarkozy's troubles.
There is litigation ahead in several more cases.
In two weeks, on March 17, the hearings in the "Bigmalion case" will begin - on charges of illegal financing of the 2012 election campaign. Prosecutors suspect that Sarkozy, through his cooperation with the PR company Bygmalion, hid the real amount of expenses: the bills were issued by the parties, not his own campaign, in order to circumvent the limit on the maximum allowed amount of expenses. It is estimated that Sarkozy then spent 42.8 million euros on the campaign - almost twice the maximum allowed.
By the way, it did not help Sarkozy then, he lost the 2012 election.
The issue of "Libyan financing" of his victorious presidential campaign in 2007 is not closed either (for more details, see the article "Greetings from Gaddafi: why was Nicolas Sarkozy detained"). And in October 2020, the accusation of participation in a criminal group was added to this case. And this is also the first time such accusations have been leveled against the former president of the French Republic.
Finally, in January 2021, it became known about another case - Sarkozy's cooperation with a company controlled by Russian oligarchs. So far it is only a preliminary investigation.
According to Mediapart, the investigation concerns a 3 million-euro contract signed in 2019, under which former Sarkozy was to provide "consulting services" to the Russian insurance company RESO Garantia, controlled by Russian billionaires Sergei and Nikolai Sarkisov, which in turn is linked to the French company Axa . The investigation is investigating whether the ex-president acted purely as a consultant or in addition to illegally lobbying the interests of Russian oligarchs.
And while it is still unknown how all three cases will end - they can not but affect the political future of Nicolas Sarkozy, who could potentially compete with Macron in the 2022 presidential election.
The media is unanimous that the verdict, regardless of the outcome of the appeal, has already become a significant reputational blow for him. Victory in the 2022 presidential election with such "baggage" becomes almost unattainable.
Not surprisingly, in an interview on March 2, Sarkozy assured that he would not run.
And there are many in the world who will be happy about it. At least until the name of the new winner is determined, as the even more pro-Russian Marine Le Pen is also vying for the top post in France.
Nicolas Sarkozy is 66 years old. A center-right politician, he was one of the key members of the government in 2002-2007 (he headed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Economy). In 2007, he won the presidential election with 53.1% of the vote. His tenure included the global economic crisis and the debt crisis in the eurozone, the Russian-Georgian war, and the beginning of the "Arab Spring", which covered, in particular, Tunisia and Libya, which are close to France.
In 2008, it was Sarkozy who put forward the idea that a new EU agreement with Ukraine, negotiations on which had just begun, should be called the "Association Agreement". However, at the same time, he set a condition that this document should not mention Ukraine's membership in the EU.
In the same year, 2008, Sarkozy, as the leader of the French presidency of the EU, became a mediator in the negotiations between Georgia and Russia after the armed aggression of the latter. The ceasefire agreements he reached (the so-called "Medvedev-Sarkozy plan") in Georgia are usually criticized for being unfavorable to the Georgian side.
Sarkozy tried to re-elect in 2012, but lost 48.4% to Socialist Francois Hollande.
Author: Maria Yemets,
European Truth journalist
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