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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 January 2021

Nicolas Sarkozy appears in court on corruption charges

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007-2012 and is still an influential figure, denies wrongdoing

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) arrived in court wearing a mask. Getty
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) arrived in court wearing a mask. Getty

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy briefly appeared in court on Monday to face trial on corruption accusations before judges suspended the hearings until November 26 to assess the health of one of his co-defendants.

Prosecutors allege Mr Sarkozy offered to secure a plum job in Monaco for judge Gilbert Azibert in return for confidential information about an inquiry into allegations that Mr Sarkozy had accepted illegal payments from the late L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

He is first French former head of state to appear in the dock and the case risks a humiliating end to a career tainted by legal woes.

Mr Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012 and is still influential among conservatives, has denied any wrongdoing in all the investigations against him. He and his centre-right party Les Republicains, say the allegations are politically motivated.

Arriving through a back entrance wearing a dark suit and mask, Mr Sarkozy confirmed his name and occupation as former president and lawyer.

The judges then considered a request by Mr Azibert's lawyer to suspend the trial because his client, who was not in court, was at high risk of contracting Covid-19 given that he has a long-term heart condition.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) leaves court after the hearing. EPA
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) leaves court after the hearing. EPA

The judges ordered an independent medical assessment by Thursday before deciding whether to go ahead with the trial by videoconference or to postpone it until after the pandemic.

Investigators had from 2013 been wiretapping conversations between Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog as they delved into allegations of Libyan financing in the former president's 2007 campaign.

Prosecutors said wiretaps showed that Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer had on several occasions discussed contacting Mr Azibert, a magistrate at the Cour de Cassation, France's top appeals court for criminal cases, and well informed on the Bettencourt inquiry.

They allege that Mr Sarkozy offered to help Mr Azibert get the Monaco job in return for insider help. Mr Sarkozy told BFM TV this month Mr Azibert did not land the position.

Mr Herzog and Mr Azibert are both on trial with Mr Sarkozy, charged with corruption and influence-peddling. They are also accused of "violating professional secrecy". They deny any wrongdoing.

All three face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines if convicted.

Next March, Mr Sarkozy is due in court on accusations of breaching campaign-financing rules during his failed 2012 re-election attempt.

The so-called Bygmalion case centres on accusations that Mr Sarkozy's party worked with a public relations company to hide the true cost of his campaign.

Prosecutors are still investigating allegations that Libya's late former leader Muammar Gaddafi provided Mr Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign with millions of euros shipped to Paris in suitcases – allegations that the former president denies. His main accuser, a French-Lebanese businessman, withdrew his account of events this month.

Only one other president, Mr Sarkozy's political mentor Jacques Chirac, has faced trial after leaving office. He was convicted, but because of ill health did not appear in court.

Updated: November 23, 2020 09:02 PM

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