Ex-French president allegedly tried to bribe judge investigating claims 2007 election campaign was illegally funded
Kim Willsher in Paris
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been sent to trial for corruption and influence peddling.
The case centres over phone calls Sarkozy allegedly made to a senior judge who was investigating claims that his 2007 presidential campaign was illegally funded.
Sarkozy is alleged to have promised the judge a comfortable promotion in return for information about the fraud inquiry.
The judge and Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, have also been ordered to stand trial on the same charges. All three have denied any wrongdoing; the former leader’s lawyers announced he would appeal against the decision to send the case to court.
This new legal setback came days after Sarkozy was formally put under investigation over claims he took €50m (£44m) from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in illegal donations for his successful 2007 presidential campaign, which he also denied. He went on prime time television to denounce the allegations as “crazy, monstrous”.
In this latest case, Sarkozy is accused of contacting Gilbert Azibert, then a senior judge in France’s highest court, the court of cassation, in 2014 – two years after he left office – in order to obtain information about an investigation being carried out about his 2007 campaign funding. In this instance, Sarkozy had been accused of taking envelopes of cash in illegal donations from the late Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L’Oréal fortune.
In the call to Azibert, in which Sarkozy used the alias Paul Bismuth, he allegedly offered to use his contacts to get the judge a prestigious job in the principality of Monaco in exchange for information on the case. The call was wiretapped by police.
In earlier hearings, Sarkozy and his lawyers had hoped this and other tapes of private conversations between the former president and Herzog, would be deemed illegal and inadmissible in court leading to the case being thrown out. However, in March 2016, the court ruled investigators had not broken any law by using phone taps.
Initially, fraud investigators had been looking into the Gaddafi campaign funding case in 2012 when they put taps on several phones belonging to Sarkozy and Herzog. The recorded conversations led to an entirely new investigation. The L’Oréal funding case, known as the Bettencourt Affair, was later dropped, but the tapes led to new charges for corruption and influence peddling.
After an official investigation was opened in July 2014, judges decided Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert should stand trial in May 2015, but the case has been repeatedly delayed by the defence’s appeals.
Sarkozy also faces criminal proceedings over claims that he fraudulently hid expenses for his failed 2012 re-election bid after expenditure on the campaign exceeded the legal limits, in what is known as the Bygmalion Affair. Prosecutors have recommended he be sent for trial on these allegations.
Sarkozy has strenuously denied all accusations made against him the cases.