French prosecutors seek prison term for Sarkozy in graft trial

Paris (AFP) –


Prosecutors in the landmark corruption trial of French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday called for him to be sentenced to a prison term of four years of which he should serve two.

The 65-year-old rightwinger, the country's first modern head of state to appear in the dock, is accused of trying to bribe a judge with a plum retirement job in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

Prosecutors asked for the same punishment for Sarkozy's lawyer and co-defendant, Thierry Herzog, as well as for the judge, Gilbert Azibert.

They also said Herzog should also be disbarred for five years.

"The facts would not have occurred if a former president, as well as a lawyer, had kept in mind the magnitude, the responsibility, and the duties of his office," prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon told the court.

He said the "devastating effects of this affair strikes at the values of the Republic," adding that it had "damaged" the judicial institution, the legal profession and the image of the presidency.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, had told the court Monday that he "never committed the slightest act of corruption" and vowed to go "all the way" to clear his name.

The corruption and influence-peddling charges -- among several legal cases against him -- carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of one million euros ($1.2 million).

- 'Dragged through mud' -

Defending himself in court for the first time on Monday Sarkozy said he relished the prospect of getting a fair hearing after being "dragged through the mud for six years".

"What did I do to deserve this?" asked Sarkozy, who wore a dark suit and a surgical mask, vowing to "go all the way for the truth". The courtroom was as packed as virus restrictions would permit.

Prosecutors say he and Herzog tried to bribe judge Azibert in return for information on an inquiry into claims Sarkozy had received illicit payments from late L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

The state's case is based on wiretaps of conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy, something the former president denounced during his address to the court.

On Tuesday the prosecutors accused Sarkozy of covering up the attempt to infiltrate the court via "the use of secret telephone lines".

Prosecutor Celine Guillet said it had been established "with certainty" that judge Azibert transmitted confidential information about the Bettencourt case on an unofficial line to his friend Herzog.

One conversation "overwhelmingly" showed that Sarkozy had promised to intervene to get Azibert the Monaco post, she said.

Sarkozy's lawyer Jacqueline Laffont lashed out at "the flaws, the inexistence and the emptiness" of the prosecutor's accusations.

Azibert was a senior advisor at France's highest appeals court at the time. He never got the job in Monaco.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair but still faces a raft of legal woes.

He remains charged over allegations that he received millions of euros in funding from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 election campaign, and he is also accused of fraudulently overspending on his failed 2012 reelection bid.

Chirac received a two-year suspended sentence over the creation of ghost jobs at the Paris town hall that were used to fund his party when he was the city's mayor.