Nicolas Sarkozy denies illegal election campaign funding

Ex-French president tells court he was the political leader and not involved in logistics of campaign

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) arrives for a hearing of the so-called Bygmalion case trial which sees him charged with illicit financing for his failed 2012 re-election campaign, in Paris, on June 15, 2021. Sarkozy and 13 others are accused of setting up or benefiting from a fake billing scheme to cover millions of euros in excess spending on campaign rallies. / AFP / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy appeared in court on Tuesday and denied any role in the alleged illegal financing of his 2012 re-election campaign.

A Paris court will determine if Mr Sarkozy was aware of a system of false invoices allegedly intended to cover up election overspending.

The former president, 66, is accused of spending almost twice the legal maximum of €22.5 million ($27.5m) on the presidential race he lost to Socialist Francois Hollande.

The trial began last month but on Tuesday Mr Sarkozy made his first appearance.

“You have in front of you someone whose life has been dedicated to politics for 40 years,” he told the court. Mr Sarkozy said he was the political leadership of the campaign but was not involved in organisational or logistical details. He said that as the incumbent president fighting for re-election he had other priorities, including newspaper interviews, TV appearances and more than 40 rallies between mid-February and May 2012. He said he “never” gave any direct instruction to service providers in charge of the organisation of his rallies because his team did that. His comments were in response to an investigative magistrate’s conclusions that Mr Sarkozy and his team decided to hold “spectacular and expensive rallies” in 2012, contributing to the alleged campaign cost of €42.8m.

The investigation did not establish whether Mr Sarkozy took an active part in the process or ordered fraudulent actions himself.

Twelve other people and the company that organising the campaign rallies face charges ranging from forgery to breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing.