Sarkozy Back on Trial Days After Historic Corruption Conviction
(Bloomberg) -- Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to return to court on Wednesday, just two weeks after his historic conviction for corruption, this time facing separate allegations he broke campaign spending limits during his failed 2012 election campaign.
Sarkozy is accused of ignoring warnings from accountants that campaign finances were spiraling out of control as he hosted rally after rally to try to win re-election. He allegedly racked up costs of at least 42.8 million euros ($51 million) -- about twice as much as the total limit for both rounds.
Since leaving office, Sarkozy’s life has become somewhat of a legal marathon. He spent three weeks in court last year trying to defend himself against the corruption allegations. Weeks before, the former president had been questioned by a lead investigator who pressed further charges in another probe into allegations of illegal funding of his winning 2007 campaign by the regime of Libya’s former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Another defendant in Wednesday’s case, Jérôme Lavrilleux, deputy director of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign, is expected to ask the trial to be postponed after one of his lawyers tested positive for Covid-19. In part of the case that doesn’t concern the ex-president, Lavrilleux is accused of participating in a system of fake invoices and risks as long as five years in jail.
After last month’s conviction, the stakes are lower for Sarkozy in what has become known as the Bygmalion affair, after a communications company hired to organize his rallies during the 2012 election fight. He risks at most a one-year sentence and a 3,750 euro-fine.
Yet the diverging interests of the dozen other defendants suggests there may be more finger pointing than in recent court appearances.
During the former president’s corruption trial, the three co-accused stood united in denying the existence of any illegal pact, with Sarkozy dismissing wiretapped phone conversations put forward by the prosecution as “chatter” that was taken out of context. He has appealed the conviction, suspending its enforcement.
The spending-limits case, if it isn’t postponed, is due to last until mid-April. Thierry Herzog, who was convicted earlier this month alongside Sarkozy in the corruption trial, has been the ex-president’s lawyer throughout this case.
Herzog wasn’t immediately available to comment ahead of the trial. The lawyer -- who, like his friend, the ex-president, is also appealing his corruption conviction -- has previously said he considers the campaign issue settled because his client already paid a penalty.
Due to its overspending, Sarkozy’s party was forced to resort to private donations in what was known as the “Sarkothon” after France’s constitutional court decided in 2013 not to reimburse 11 million euros in election expenses.
Despite Sarkozy’s legal woes, he’s not alone. None of the major French political parties has been spared by legal embarrassments in the past decade. Several of Emmanuel Macron’s ministers are currently under investigation, Francois Hollande’s presidency was tarnished when his budget minister was found to be dodging taxes and Marine Le Pen has been charged for misusing European Union funds.
But Sarkozy’s center-right party Les Republicains is perhaps the most hard-hit, with back-to-back convictions in under nine months of its two most famous politicians. Months before Sarkozy, former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his wife Penelope were found guilty of embezzling more than 1 million euros in a scandal over a fake advisory job.
Fillon, a clear favorite in France’s 2017 race until the allegations emerged months before the vote, didn’t make it to the second round and Sarkozy said shortly after his conviction that he had no plans to make a comeback for the 2022 election.
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