Nicolas Sarkozy has been sentenced by a French court to three years in jail, two of them suspended, for corruption.
The former French president was convicted of trying to bribe a judge in 2014 – after he had left office – by suggesting he could secure a prestigious job for him in return for information about a separate case.
Nicolas Sarkozy is the first former French president to get a custodial sentence.
His lawyer says he will appeal.
The 66-year-old conservative politician will remain free during that process which could take years.
In the ruling, Judge Christine Mée said Nicolas Sarkozy “knew what [he] was doing was wrong”, adding that his actions and those of his lawyer had given the public “a very bad image of justice”.
The crimes were specified as influence-peddling and violation of professional secrecy.
It is a legal landmark for post-war France. The only precedent was the trial of Nicolas Sarkozy’s predecessor Jacques Chirac, who got a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for having arranged bogus jobs at Paris City Hall for allies when he was Paris mayor. Chirac died in 2019.
If Nicolas Sarkozy’s appeal is unsuccessful, he could serve a year at home with an electronic tag, rather than go to prison.
The former president’s wife, supermodel and singer Carla Bruni, reacted by describing the case as “senseless persecution”, adding that “the fight continued, and truth would come out”.
Nicolas Sarkozy served one five-year term as president from 2007. He adopted tough anti-immigration policies and sought to reform France’s economy during a presidency overshadowed by the global financial crisis.
Critics nicknamed him “bling-bling”, seeing his leadership style as too brash, celebrity-driven and hyperactive for a role steeped in tradition and grandeur.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s celebrity image was reinforced by his marriage to Carla Bruni in 2008. In 2012, he lost his re-election bid to Socialist François Hollande.
Since then he has been targeted by several criminal investigations.
In 2017, Nicolas Sarkozy tried to make a political comeback, but failed as his centre-right Les Républicains party chose another presidential candidate instead.
He was on trial with two co-defendants, his lawyer Thierry Herzog and Gilbert Azibert, a senior judge.
The case centered on phone conversations between Nicolas Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog that were taped by police in 2014.
Investigators were looking into claims that the former president had accepted illicit payments from the L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.
The prosecution convinced the court that Nicolas Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog had sought to bribe Gilbert Azibert with a prestigious job in Monaco in return for information about that investigation.
French media reported that Nicolas Sarkozy was heard telling Thierry Herzog: “I’ll get him promoted, I’ll help him.”
The phone line police tapped was a secret number set up in a fictional name, Paul Bismuth, through which Nicolas Sarkozy communicated with his lawyer.
On March 1, Thierry Herzog and Gilbert Azibert were also sentenced to three years in jail, two of them suspended.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation over alleged influence peddling.
Nicolas Sarkozy, 59, appeared before a judge in Paris late on Tuesday after 15 hours of questioning by anti-corruption police.
This is thought to be the first time a former French head of state has been held in police custody.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and a magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, were also placed under formal investigation over the same allegations.
A second magistrate called in for questioning, Patrick Sassoust, had not appeared before a judge as of Tuesday night.
When a suspect is placed under formal investigation, he or she is then examined by a judge, who determines whether there is sufficient evidence for the suspect to be charged.
The step often, but not always, leads to trial. Influence-peddling can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of 500,000 euros ($684,000).
Nicolas Sarkozy was released from custody around midnight after appearing in court in Paris.
Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation over alleged influence peddling (photo Reuters)
He had been brought to the court from the judicial police office in Nanterre, west of the French capital, where he had been interrogated.
Paul-Albert Iweins, the lawyer representing Thierry Herzog, said the case rested only on “phone taps… whose legal basis will be strongly contested”.
“There’s not a lot in this dossier, since none of the material elements of what I’ve seen, and what we could contest, support the accusations,” he added.
The inquiry arose out of a separate investigation into whether Nicolas Sarkozy had received illegal funding for his election campaign in 2007 from the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to challenge again for the presidency in 2017 and the inquiry is seen as a blow to his hopes of returning to office.
Investigators are trying to find out whether Nicolas Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, had promised a prestigious role in Monaco to Gilbert Azibert, in exchange for information about an investigation into alleged illegal campaign funding.
They are looking into claims that Nicolas Sarkozy was warned his phone was being bugged as part of the Gaddafi inquiry.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was given a suspended prison sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and breach of trust while he was mayor of Paris but he was never questioned in custody.
An investigation was launched in February into whether Nicolas Sarkozy had sought inside information about the inquiry into his 2007 election campaign funding.
It is alleged that Nicolas Sarkozy was kept informed of proceedings against him while a decision was made over whether his work diaries – seized as part of the funding inquiry – should be kept in the hands of the justice system.
The Court of Cassation ruled in March 2014 that the diaries should not be returned.
Investigators believe the former president was tipped off that his phone was being bugged as part of the inquiry.
Nicolas Sarkozy insists the allegations against him are politically motivated. He is seeking to regain the leadership of the centre-right UMP party later this year.
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