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Former French president Sarkozy convicted of corruption, jailed for a year

66-year-old politician found guilty of illegally obtaining information from magistrate; faces another trial for illegal financing of 2012 campaign

In this Oct.29, 2020 file photo, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony in Nice, southern France (Valery Hache; Pool via AP, File)
In this Oct.29, 2020 file photo, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony in Nice, southern France (Valery Hache; Pool via AP, File)

PARIS (AP) — A Paris court on Monday found French former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence-peddling and sentenced him to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence.

The 66-year-old politician, who was president from 2007 to 2012, was convicted for having tried to illegally obtain information from a senior magistrate in 2014 about a legal action in which he was involved.

The court said Sarkozy will be entitled to request to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.

Sarkozy will face another trial later this month along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

In this Oct.29, 2020, photo, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony in Nice, southern France (Valery Hache; Pool via AP)

This is the first time in France’s modern history that a former president has gone on trial for corruption. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money and given a two-year suspended prison sentence for actions during his time as Paris mayor.

Sarkozy’s co-defendants — his lawyer and longtime friend Thierry Herzog, 65, and now-retired magistrate Gilbert Azibert, 74 — also deny wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have requested two years of prison and a two-year suspended sentence for all three defendants over what they said was a “corruption pact.”

“No pact has ever existed,” Sarkozy told the court. “Neither in my head nor in reality.”

“I want to be cleared of that infamy,” he added.

The trial focused on phone conversations that took place in February 2014.

At the time, investigative judges had launched an inquiry into the financing of the 2007 presidential campaign. During the investigation, they incidentally discovered that Sarkozy and Herzog were communicating via secret mobile phones registered to the alias “Paul Bismuth.”

Conversations wiretapped on these phones led prosecutors to suspect Sarkozy and Herzog of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about another legal case, known by the name of France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

French lawyer Thierry Herzog arrives at the courtroom November 30, 2020 in Paris.(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

In one of these phone calls with Herzog, Sarkozy said of Azibert: “I’ll make him move up … I’ll help him.”

In another, Herzog reminded Sarkozy to “say a word” for Azibert during a trip to Monaco.

Legal proceedings against Sarkozy have been dropped in the Bettencourt case. Azibert never got the Monaco job.

Prosecutors have concluded, however, that the “clearly stated promise” constitutes in itself a corruption offense under French law, even if the promise wasn’t fulfilled.

Sarkozy vigorously denies any malicious intention.

He told the court that his political life was all about “giving (people) a little help. That all it is, a little help.”

“I was 100 billion miles away from thinking we were doing something we did not have the right to do,” he said.

Sarkozy said he did not get confidential information from Azibert.

French attorney Gilbert Azibert arrives at the courtroom November 30, 2020 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Prosecutors believe Sarkozy was at some point informed that the secret phones were being wiretapped and that it is the reason why he did not ultimately help Azibert get the job.

The confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and his client has been a major point of contention in the trial.

“You have in front of you a man of whom more than 3,700 private conversations have been wiretapped… What did I do to deserve that?” Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy’s defense lawyer, Jacqueline Laffont, argued the whole case was based on “small talk” between a lawyer and his client.

“You don’t have the beginning of a piece of evidence, not the slightness witness account, the slightness declaration,” she told the court.

French President Emmanuel Macron poses for a selfie as he arrives at a polling station to vote in the second round of the French parliamentary elections, in Le Touquet, northern France, June 18, 2017. (Christophe Archambault/Pool Photo via AP)

Sarkozy withdrew from active politics after failing to be chosen as his conservative party’s presidential candidate for France’s 2017 election, won by Emmanuel Macron.

He remains very popular amid right-wing voters, however, and plays a major role behind the scenes, including through maintaining a relationship with Macron, whom he is said to advise on certain topics. His memoirs published this summer, “The Time of Storms,” was a bestseller for weeks.

Sarkozy will face another trial later this month along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

Supporters of France’s President and candidate for the Presidential Election 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy, wave French flags before a meeting in Marseille, southern France, February 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

His conservative party is suspected of having spent 42.8 million euros ($50.7 million), almost twice the maximum authorized, to finance the campaign, which ended in victory for Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

In another investigation opened in 2013, Sarkozy is accused of having taken millions from then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to illegally finance his 2007 campaign.

He was handed preliminary charges of passive corruption, illegal campaign financing, concealment of stolen assets from Libya, and criminal association. He has denied wrongdoing.

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