These hearings are not the only headache for 65-year-old Sarkozy – a lively conservative who remains extremely popular with a large part of the French population. In addition to accusations of corruption, he will have to fight off claims in other courts about his election campaigns’ financial impropriety.
Sarkozy calls the persecution a witch hunt. He is sure that the liberal judiciary declared him a vendetta for reproaches of being too lenient towards criminals and attempts to limit judges’ powers.
In the corruption case, Sarkozy faces up to 10 years in prison and a millionth fine. Mid-December should complete the process.
So far, only once has the French president been on trial after the expiration of his term. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of hiring friends for fictitious positions when he was mayor of Paris. However, Chirac, under which Sarkozy rose to the French political Olympus, did not participate in the 2011 trial due to illness. He was convicted in absentia and received a two-year suspended sentence.
Which makes Sarkozy the first ex-president of France to face trial in person. He already has the laurels of the first detained ex-head of state – Sarkozy was taken to the police for interrogation at the dawn of the corruption investigation six years ago.
The rise and fall of Nicolas Sarkozy
Among the French, there is little indifference to Sarkozy: he is either idolized or hated. He continues to inspire supporters with incendiary speeches, and his memoir has been at the top of the bestseller charts for weeks this summer.
Abroad, Sarkozy is remembered as the husband of singer Carla Bruni and a war and peace politician. In 2011, he sent French troops to Libya at the head of the Western coalition, which eventually led to the overthrow and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi. And before that, Sarkozy did not start but ended the war by mediating between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
The heyday of Sarkozy as a politician came in the 2000s when from the mayor of the outskirts of Paris he rapidly grew into a key figure in the French government, where he held the posts of Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance. The culmination was the victory in the 2007 presidential election.
However, Sarkozy’s presidential career did not work out. His five-year term at the Elysee Palace was hit by the global financial crisis and the European debt crisis. He could not be re-elected for a second term, losing in 2012 to François Hollande.
Sarkozy announced the end of a 30-year political career but did not sit out for a long time on early retirement. The socialist Hollande turned out to be even less popular with the French than Sarkozy, and he could only dream of re-election for a second term. Republicans got a chance to regain the presidency quickly.
Sarkozy got involved in the fight but lost the primaries miserably. Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon became the Republican candidate. He was known as the favorite of the race but ended up in court and received five years in prison for embezzlement (three years of which were suspended) in the case of his wife’s fictitious employment.
In the end, the president of France was not a socialist or a republican, but the leader of the new political movement, Emmanuel Macron.
Sarkozy’s career went downhill.
What is Sarkozy accused of
Investigators first became interested in funding both the 2007 and 2012 election campaigns. They suspected that Sarkozy had spent more than he should have and accepted illegal donations from the co-owner of L’Oreal billionaire Liliane Bettencourt and allegedly even from the Libyan leader Gaddafi.
The applicant recently withdrew accusations of receiving millions of euros in cash from Gaddafi, and the case of tens of thousands of euros from Betancourt fell apart in court.
However, other charges were brought against Sarkozy – this time of corruption and abuse of office. According to investigators, as president, he tried to influence the investigation of the Betancourt donation case. He allegedly offered Judge Gilbert Azibert a promotion and a warm place in Monaco in exchange for information on the investigation’s progress.
The accusation is based on the recordings of telephone conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog, who ended up in the dock with the ex-president.
The series of legal proceedings will not end there. A new trial is scheduled for March, where Sarkozy and his 13 associates will have to answer charges of illegal financing of the 2012 election campaign.
Sarkozy is suspected of involvement in a fraud that has resulted in him nearly double the legal spending limit for a lost election campaign.