Ex-French President Sarkozy Denies Corruption as Trial Begins

Nicolas Sarkozy denied allegations that he abused his power as the former president of France to woo a senior court official into giving him a helping hand in a legal dispute.

“I naturally do not acknowledge any of these dishonoring accusations,” Sarkozy told judges as his delayed Paris corruption trial finally got underway after his co-defendant was deemed fit enough to come to court.

Sarkozy is accused of offering to pull strings after leaving office to help the now-retired court official get a prestigious job in Monaco in return for his aid in the dispute. The 65-year-old is only the second former French president to go on trial in modern times, and the first over corruption accusations. Sarkozy became France’s head of state in 2007 but failed to win re-election five years later.

The corruption and influence-peddling case includes evidence obtained by the wiretapping of Sarkozy’s calls in early 2014 on so-called burner phones with his then-lawyer, Thierry Herzog, who acted as a go-between with the former official, Gilbert Azibert.

‘Serious Irregularities’

Sarkozy’s attorney during the trial, Jacqueline Laffont, said there were “several serious irregularities” throughout the investigations that should void the entire case against her client. The judges may choose to immediately rule on the request or may allow the trial to proceed and take a decision on these concerns at the end.

While in one wiretapped conversation Sarkozy told Herzog he’d “take care” of helping Azibert at a meeting with a Monaco minister, the former French president later said he’d had second thoughts about interceding in favor of someone he didn’t know well. Suspecting that Sarkozy had unlawfully been tipped off that his burner phone was being recorded and that the change-of-heart conversation was staged, investigators opened a separate preliminary probe. But they never found evidence to back their hunch.

Laffont said on Monday that the fact that the findings from this separate preliminary probe were hidden from defense lawyers until January violates Sarkozy’s rights and may have allowed him to prove his innocence ahead of a trial.

This preliminary investigation “is a stain for the justice system and it has stained the entire proceedings,” Laffont said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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