Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is set to go on trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling in a phone-tapping scandal, a first for the 65-year-old politician who has faced several other judicial investigations since leaving office in 2012.
- Nicolas Sarkozy faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of corruption and influence peddling
- Mr Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing and says he is in a “combative” mood ahead of the trial
- This is the first time a former president has faced trial for corruption in France
Mr Sarkozy is accused of trying to illegally obtain information from a magistrate about an investigation involving him in 2014.
He will stand trial in a Paris court along with his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73.
They face up to 10 years’ prison and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($1.6 million).
They deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog are suspected of promising Mr Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into suspected illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
In 2014, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog used secret mobile phones — registered to the alias name of “Paul Bismuth” — to have private talks because they feared their conversations were being tapped.
Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog explained they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal phone tapping. Investigative judges, however, suspect they actually wanted to avoid being tapped by investigators.
Judges have found that discussions between Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer suggested they had knowledge judicial investigators at the time tapped their conversations on their official phones, as they mentioned “judges listening”.
Mr Sarkozy has argued he did not intervene to help Mr Azibert, who never got the job and retired in 2014.
Investigative judges consider that as soon as a deal has been offered, it constitutes a criminal offence even if the promises have not been fulfilled.
Legal proceedings against Mr Sarkozy have been dropped in the Bettencourt case.
Mr Sarkozy pointed at judicial harassment, accusing judges of breaching lawyer-client privilege via wiretapping.
“I don’t want things that I didn’t do to be held against me. The French need to know … that I’m not a rotten person,” he told news broadcaster BFM earlier this month.
He said he was facing the trial in a “combative” mood.
This is the first time a former president has faced trial for corruption in France.
Mr Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money, breach of trust and conflict of interest and given a two-year suspended prison sentence for actions during his time as Paris mayor, before he was president from 1995 to 2007.
Mr Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial investigations.
Allegations, which include illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by then-Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, cast a shadow over Mr Sarkozy’s comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential election.
After failing to be chosen as candidate by his conservative party, he withdrew from active politics.
Mr Sarkozy remained the most popular figure amid French right-wing voters in recent years. His memoirs published this year, The Time of Storms, was a bestseller for weeks.