A French court on Thursday imposed a one-year sentence on former President Nicolas Sarkozy after finding him guilty of illegal campaign financing for overspending in his 2012 re-election campaign. The verdict came six months after he was found guilty of corruption. in a separate trial.
The court will allow the former president to serve his sentence at home wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Sarkozy, who spent nearly double the legal limit on his failed bid for a second term in office, was not present in Paris court for the announcement of the verdict.
The 66-year-old right-winger did his best in 2012 to try to defend himself from the ultimately victorious socialist candidate, François Hollande.
A series of lavish American-style election rallies sent his costs skyrocketing, with the final bill reaching at least 42.8 million euros ($ 49.7 million), almost double the legal limit of 22.5 million. of euros.
The case is known as the Bygmalion case, after the name of the public relations firm that installed a system of false invoices to mask the true cost of the events.
Prosecutors requested a one-year prison sentence, half of which suspended, for the former president. In any case, it is unlikely that he will go to jail immediately, as he is expected to appeal the sentence.
It was the second guilty verdict this year for Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012 and retains influence among conservatives despite falling out of favor over his legal troubles.
Sarkozy ‘knew’, ‘voluntarily’ ignored the accountants’ notes
The court claimed that Sarkozy “knew” weeks before the 2012 elections that the legal limit was at stake and “voluntarily” did not monitor the additional spending, accusing him of having ignored two notes from his accountants that warned on the issue of money. .
Prosecutors argued that Sarkozy is “the only person responsible for financing his campaign” and that he chose to exceed the limit by organizing many rallies, including the giants.
During his June hearing, Sarkozy told the court that the extra money did not go toward his campaign, but rather helped make other people rich. He denied any “fraudulent attempts”. He also insisted that he did not handle the logistics of his campaign for a second term as president or supervise how the money was spent, because he had a team to do that.
This conviction comes six months after he was sentenced to prison for corruption and influence peddling in a separate trial, when he tried to appear before a judge to obtain confidential information in a judicial investigation. He also denied any wrongdoing in that case.
The former president was sentenced to three years in prison in that trial, two of which were suspended. As with Thursday’s sentencing, he will likely avoid jail, and the judge said he would consider letting him serve the remaining year of his sentence at home, if he wore an electronic ankle bracelet. Your appeal is also pending.
However, he became the first postwar French president to receive a custodial sentence. Before him, the only former leader sentenced in the trial was Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac, who received a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for corruption over a fake jobs scandal related to his time as mayor of Paris.
Sarkozy, who has accused the judiciary of harassing him since he lost his presidential immunity, appealed that verdict.
Political role behind the scenes
In addition to the former president, 13 other people were prosecuted, including members of his conservative Republican party, accountants and heads of the communication group in charge of organizing the rallies, Bygmalion. They face charges that include forgery, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign finance.
Some have acknowledged wrongdoing and detailed the false invoice system that was intended to cover up the overspending.
Prosecutors have mostly requested suspended prison sentences and up to one year in prison for the Bygmalion co-founder.
Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017, but continues to play a behind-the-scenes role. French media have reported that he is involved in the process of choosing a conservative candidate ahead of France’s presidential elections next year.