Sarkozy convicted by French court in campaign financing case

International

FILE – In this Monday Nov. 11, 2019 file photo, French former president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Sarkozy is facing potential prison term in a verdict to be rendered on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 about campaign financing in his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid. Sarkozy, France’s president from 2007 to 2012, has vigorously denied wrongdoing during the May-June trial. (Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP, file)

PARIS (AP) — French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was convicted Thursday and sentenced to a year of house arrest for illegal campaign financing of his unsuccessful 2012 reelection bid, will appeal the ruling, his lawyer said.

The court said Sarkozy would be allowed to serve the one-year sentence at home by wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, noted that the sentence corresponds to the maximum his client faced. He said he had spoken with Sarkozy, who had asked him to appeal.

“The verdict won’t be enforceable” pending appeal, he added.

Sarkozy, France’s president from 2007 to 2012, had vigorously denied wrongdoing during the trial in May and June.

Sarkozy wasn’t present at the Paris court for the ruling. He is accused of having spent almost twice the maximum legal amount of 22.5 million euros ($27.5 million) on the reelection bid that he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande.

The court stated that Sarkozy “knew” the legal limit was at stake and “voluntarily” failed to supervise additional expenses.

Thursday’s verdict comes after Sarkozy, 66, was found guilty on March 1 of corruption and influence peddling in another case. He was given a year in prison, and two years suspended, in that case but is free pending appeal.

It is the first time in France’s modern history that a former president has been convicted and sentenced to a prison term for actions during his term. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money during his time as Paris mayor and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

In the campaign financing case, prosecutors concluded that Sarkozy knew weeks before the 2012 election that his expenses — which are strictly limited under French law — were getting close to the legal maximum. They accused him of having ignored two notes from his accountants warning about the money issue.

The court on Thursday said despite being aware of the risk of exceeding the limit, he chose to organize many rallies, including giant ones. “These rallies have been approved by Nicolas Sarkozy and he took advantage of them,” the court said.

During the trial, Sarkozy told the court the extra money didn’t go into his campaign, but instead helped make other people richer. He denied any “fraudulent intent.” He also insisted he didn’t handle the day-to-day organization because he had a team to do that and therefore couldn’t be blamed for the amount of spending.

In addition to the former president, 13 other people went on trial, including members of his conservative Republicans party, accountants and heads of the communication group in charge of organizing the rallies, Bygmalion.

They have all been found guilty, with sentences going from a suspended prison sentence to two years of house arrest with an electronic bracelet. Various charges include forgery, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing.

Some have acknowledged wrongdoing and detailed the system of false invoices that aimed to cover up the overspending.

Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017, but is still playing a role behind the scenes. French media have reported that he is involved in the process of choosing a conservative candidate ahead of France’s presidential election next year.

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