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World & Nation

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling

Former French Presidents Francois Hollande, left, and Nicolas Sarkozy wait prior to a national cerem
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy attending the funeral police officer in Paris on Wednesday.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

French judges have ordered former President Nicolas Sarkozy, long the subject of multiple criminal investigations, to stand trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling.

The case centers on claims that Sarkozy attempted to obtain inside information from a senior judge in 2014 about a fraud investigation involving him. The judges’ order Thursday comes just a week after Sarkozy was detained and questioned in connection with a separate corruption scandal involving the late Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi.

For the record:
10:45 AM, Mar. 29, 2018 An earlier version of this article stated that Sarkozy was ordered to stand trial on accusations that he took illegal campaign financing from then-Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi. The order came in a separate case. Also, an earlier version of this article suggested that Sarkozy approached a judge to obtain information about an investigation. Prosecutors allege that Sarkozy and his attorney discussed making a job offer to the judge in return for information.

In the case concerning the judge, prosecutors say Sarkozy offered to pull strings to get the judge a privileged post in Monaco, the tiny but rich sovereign principality on the French Riviera. In return, it is alleged, the judge was supposed to provide confidential details about the inquiry into alleged irregularities in the funding of his successful 2007 election campaign.

Police were investigating allegations that Sarkozy had illegally accepted campaign donations from the late L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest woman at the time, without declaring them.

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As part of the so-called Bettencourt affair, investigators put wiretaps on several cellphones used by Sarkozy, who used the alias Paul Bismuth to obtain a second cellphone, and his entourage. Although the Bettencourt case was later dropped, prosecutors say police wiretaps picked up a conversation between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog in which they discussed making the job offer to a senior judge, Gilbert Azibert, in return for information.

Sarkozy’s defense team argued the tapes were illegal, broke lawyer-client confidentiality and were inadmissible in legal proceedings, but judges rejected that argument in 2016.

Prosecutors decided there was enough evidence to put Sarkozy on trial on corruption and influence peddling charges in another case with yet another nickname, the Bismuth affair. The case dates to 2015 and has been repeatedly delayed by defense appeals. Sarkozy’s lawyers issued a statement saying they would also appeal Thursday’s decision to send this case to court.

Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert are being sent to trial on the corruption and influence peddling charges; all three deny the allegations.

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Thursday’s development came days after Sarkozy was officially put under investigation in a case involving claims he received millions in illegal campaign funds from Kadafi for his 2007 election.

Sarkozy is also being investigated over the funding of his unsuccessful reelection bid in 2012; this case, known as the Bygmalion affair, involves claims he fraudulently hid campaign costs after they exceeded the legal limit using an established communications company called Bygmalion as a front. The public prosecutor has called for this case to also go to trial.

Sarkozy has vigorously denied all the accusations in all the cases against him. Last week he went on prime-time television to say the Kadafi claims were “crazy” and “monstrous.”

Sarkozy, a conservative, served just one term from 2007 to 2012, when he lost to socialist Francois Holland.


UPDATES:

3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting throughout.

This article was originally published at 10:30 am.


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