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Nicolas Sarkozy, Ex-President of France, Found Guilty of Corruption

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PARIS — The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty and sentenced to jail by a court in Paris on Monday on charges of corruption and influence peddling, only the second time in modern French history that a former president has been convicted of a crime.

The conviction was the culmination of just one of several long-running legal entanglements that are coming to a head for the politician who led France from 2007 to 2012.

Mr. Sarkozy, 66, is likely to appeal, and while the conviction could undermine his stature in French politics, he still holds considerable sway among French conservatives.

Mr. Sarkozy was found guilty of trying to illegally obtain information on another case against him from a judge in return for promises to use his influence to secure a prestigious job for the judge.

The presiding judge in Monday’s case, Christine Mée, told the court that Mr. Sarkozy had “used his status as a former president to reward a magistrate who served his personal interest” and that he was “perfectly informed” of the illegality of his actions, according to French news reports.

Mr. Sarkozy, who had always denied any wrongdoing, left the courtroom without speaking to reporters, as did his lawyers.

While the court handed down a three-year prison sentence, two of those years were suspended. If Mr. Sarkozy commits a new crime within a given time frame, a court could then order the sentence to be served in full.

Mr. Sarkozy can request that his one-year term be served outside prison, for instance at home with an electronic bracelet. An appeal, which is widely expected, would place the entire sentence on hold.

The conviction does not bar Mr. Sarkozy from running for office, although he has not publicly expressed any such desire.

Until Monday, only one president in recent French history had been found guilty by a court of law: Jacques Chirac, who was convicted in 2011 of embezzling and misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris. Mr. Chirac was the first French head of state to stand trial since Marshal Philippe Pétain was found guilty of treason at the end of World War II for collaborating with Nazi Germany.

Mr. Chirac, however, was tried in absentia because of his poor mental health, and last year Mr. Sarkozy became the first French president to physically attend his own trial since 1945. On Monday, Mr. Sarkozy also became the first French president to be found guilty on the specific charge of corruption.

Mr. Sarkozy, who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and mounted a failed comeback attempt in 2016, has denied any wrongdoing in a complex web of financial impropriety cases that has plagued him since he left office.

He is scheduled to stand trial later this month in a separate case involving his 2012 campaign, in which he has been charged with exceeding strict limits on campaign spending. The longest-running and most serious case against him involves accusations that his 2007 campaign received illegal Libyan financing from the government of the now-dead strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Other cases against Mr. Sarkozy have been dropped, including one in which he was accused of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune into financing his 2007 campaign.

The verdict came amid a heating political climate in France as the country gears up for the 2022 presidential election.

Mr. Sarkozy is on good terms with President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently steered France to the right, and he still wields considerable influence on the main conservative political party in France, Les Républicains.

With the presidential election fast approaching and no clear front-runners in sight, Mr. Sarkozy’s blessing is widely sought by party officials, many of whom have disparaged the French justice system in recent years, accusing prosecutors and judges of unfairly targeting Mr. Sarkozy.

Christian Jacob, the head of Les Républicains, reacted swiftly after the verdict, expressing “unfailing support” for Mr. Sarkozy.

“The severity of the sentence is absolutely disproportionate,” Mr. Jacob wrote on Twitter, adding that it showed Mr. Sarkozy was the victim of “legal harassment.”

The case on Monday, known as the “wiretapping affair,” was the first against the former president to finally reach trial, as Mr. Sarkozy — a lawyer by training — used every legal recourse available to him to draw out proceedings.

Although the cases are separate, the wiretapping affair emerged from the Libya inquiry, which began in 2013 and led investigators to place wiretaps on phones belonging to Mr. Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog, his lawyer.

Through the wiretaps, prosecutors claimed in court, investigators discovered in 2014 that Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog were using secret phone lines and that the two had discussed ways of obtaining confidential information about another case involving the former president that was being handled by France’s top appeals court.

Prosecutors said Mr. Sarkozy sought to illegally obtain information from Gilbert Azibert, then a magistrate at the court, including by promising to use his influence to secure a job for him in Monaco.

The job never materialized, but under French law, prosecutors do not have to prove that a corrupt deal was carried out to secure a conviction — only that one was agreed upon. At the trial, held in November and December, prosecutors accused Mr. Sarkozy of entering a “corruption pact” with Mr. Azibert, a charge he strenuously denied.

Mr. Sarkozy’s defense had asked the court to throw out the entire case, arguing that the wiretapping of his phone calls with Mr. Herzog had been illegal and that prosecutors had taken fragments of casual conversations out of context to cobble together a faulty case.

Mr. Azibert and Mr. Herzog were also found guilty by the court on the same charges as Mr. Sarkozy, and received the same sentence. Additionally, they were also found guilty on a charge of breaching professional confidentiality, and Mr. Herzog was barred from practicing law for five years.



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