Ex French president Sarkozy given one-year sentence for illegal campaign financing

Ex French president Nicolas Sarkozy in court.
Ex French president Nicolas Sarkozy in court. Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP
A French court on Thursday handed former president Nicolas Sarkozy a one-year sentence for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election bid, dealing a fresh blow to the right-winger six months after a conviction for corruption.

Sarkozy will not serve time behind bars under the terms of this verdict, however, with the court ruling that he would be able to serve the sentence outside of prison.

He was not in court to hear the judge hand down the maximum sentence for illegal campaign financing after finding that he had “voluntarily neglected” to monitor his campaign spending.

Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog said he would appeal the verdict. The verdict – which means he will likely serve the term at home with an ankle bracelet if confirmed on appeal – is not the same as a suspended sentence and goes down in his record as a full prison term.

The 66-year-old remains a hugely popular and influential figure on the right despite being caught up in multiple investigations since being voted out of the Elysée Palace after a single term in 2012.

In March, he became France’s first post-war president to be handed a custodial sentence when he was given a three-year term, two years of which were suspended, for corruption and influence peddling over attempts to secure favours from a judge.

Sarkozy promptly appealed his verdict, and under French sentencing guidelines he has not yet been put behind bars – judges said he could wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

Three months later he was back in the dock over his lavish 2012 re-election campaign. Illegal campaign financing carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a fine of €3,750 euros. Prosecutors had asked the court to give Sarkozy a one-year term, but to suspend six months of the sentence.

Thirteen other people, including Sarkozy’s former campaign manager, several Bygmalion executives and a handful of former directors of Sarkozy’s The Republicans party were also tried in the case. They received jail terms of up to three-and-a-half years in prison, with part of the sentences suspended.

Before Sarkozy, the only French leader to be sentenced at trial was his predecessor Jacques Chirac, who received a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for corruption over a fake jobs scandal relating to his time as Paris mayor.

Sarkozy attended just one day of his five-week trial for questioning, a snub that infuriated prosecutors who accused him of acting “as if he is not answerable to the law like everyone else.”

The prosecution says accountants had warned Sarkozy that he was set to blow past the official €22.5 million spending cap but that he insisted on holding more events to fend off his ultimately victorious Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

In the end, his campaign spending came to at least €42.8 million, nearly double the legal limit.

Sarkozy told the court that he had been too busy running the country to pay attention to an “accounting detail” and that the allegations he was reckless with public money were “a fairytale”.

The case is known as the Bygmalion affair, after the name of the public relations firm hired to orchestrate a blitz of lavish US-style election rallies.

Bygmalion executives have admitted to using a system of fake invoices to mask the real cost of the events.

The investigation failed to prove however that Sarkozy had any direct hand in the fraud.

The case failed to garner much interest among the public, with the charges seen as less sensational than the corruption charges that had already dented any prospect of Sarkozy making another comeback.

In 2016, he attempted to win back the Elysée Palace but failed to win the presidential nomination for the UMP party, since renamed Les Républicains (LR).

Despite his political setbacks and legal woes Sarkozy still enjoys considerable sway in French politics, with conservative candidates in next year’s presidential election vying for his endorsement.


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