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Sarkozy trial

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy leaves court after corruption trial adjourned

Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at courthouse, 23 Nov. 2020
Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at courthouse, 23 Nov. 2020 REUTERS - CHARLES PLATIAU
3 min

The trial of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog and former top judge Gilbert Azibert, on charges of corruption was adjourned on Monday afternoon, pending a medical report on Azibert’s condition.

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Azibert had requested a postponement, arguing that heart and lung problems prevented him attending court.

All of the defendants refused the option of appearing via video link.

Sarkozy vigorously contests the accusations of bribery and attended today’s short hearing in person, although he left without speaking to reporters.

He is the first former French president to appear in court as a defendant - although his predecessor as president, Jacques Chirac, was convicted of corruption in a fake-jobs case after leaving office, though ill-health had prevented his attendance in court.

The trial adjourned today centres on allegations by the prosecution that Sarkozy promised Judge Gilbert Azibert a comfortable job in Monaco in exchange for inside information on a separate inquiry into claims that Sarkozy had accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

Wiretaps and aliases

Part of the evidence comes from wiretaps of phone conversations between Sarkozy and his longtime lawyer Thierry Herzog, wiretaps authorised as part of a third probe into suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

That inquiry is still ongoing, although Sarkozy’s defence received a considerable boost when earlier this month his main accuser retracted a central claim of having delivered millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Sarkozy and Herzog had argued the wiretaps breached client-lawyer privilege but the courts dismissed their complaints.

If convicted of bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of one million euros ($1.2 million).

Herzog faces the same charges and a further allegation of violating professional secrecy. The trial is expected to last until December 10.

Investigators discovered that Sarkozy used an alias -- Paul Bismuth -- to buy a phone for private talks with his lawyer.

Prosecutors say the pair discussed reaching out to top French judge Gilbert Azibert, whom they allegedly tasked with getting information trying to sway the Bettencourt inquiry in Sarkozy's favour.

In exchange, Sarkozy would use his contacts to try to secure the Monaco post for Azibert.

"I'll make him move up," Sarkozy told Herzog, according to prosecutors.

But Azibert was never given the Monaco posting.

Prosecutors maintain that Sarkozy dropped the plan after being tipped off that his phone had been tapped.

Wave of popularity despite legal wrangles

Sarkozy, a lawyer by training, maintains the judiciary have been waging a vendetta against him because he attempted to limit judges' powers and accused many of being too soft on delinquents.

He is due back in court in March 2021 along with 13 other people over claims of campaign finance violations during his unsuccessful 2012 re-election bid.

His long-running legal travails helped sink his comeback bid for the 2017 presidential vote, but Sarkozy has surfed on a wave of popularity since announcing his retirement from politics in 2018, pressing the flesh with enthusiastic crowds at public appearances.

Lines of fans queued over the summer to have him sign his latest memoir "The Time of Storms", which topped best-seller lists for weeks.

 

 

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