Nicolas Sarkozy slams 'six years of slander' at corruption trial

Right-wing former French president faces trials in two other investigations

epa08852914 Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at court for his trial in Paris, France, 30 November 2020. In 2013, Nicolas Sarkozy used a false name to make phone calls to his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, about the pending decision of the Court of Cassation regarding the seizure of presidential diaries in a separate case. The trial is due to run from 23 November to 10 December 2020.  EPA/IAN LANGSDON
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Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday complained that he was the victim of six years of "slander", in his first remarks to the court at his corruption trial.

Mr Sarkozy, 65, last week became France's first modern head of state to appear in the dock, on trial on charges of corruption and peddling influence.

The right-wing Mr Sarkozy, who also faces trials in two other investigations, is accused of offering judge Gilbert Azibert a plum retirement job in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

"I don't accept any of the slander that has been levelled at me over the past six years," France's leader from 2007 to 2012 told the Criminal Court in Paris.

He could face a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of €1 million ($1.2m) if convicted.

Mr Azibert, 73, and Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, are also on trial.

Mr Sarkozy has been battling a barrage of investigations since losing his immunity from prosecution after his failed 2012 re-election campaign.

The hearings in his first trial opened on Monday after the court threw out a request by Mr Azibert's lawyers to have it postponed for medical reasons.

His defence said he had health problems that made public appearances risky during the Covid-19 outbreak.

But a medical exam ordered by the court determined Mr Azibert was fit enough to attend his trial.

Prosecutors say Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog tried to bribe Mr Azibert with a job in Monaco, in return for information on an inquiry into claims Mr Sarkozy received illicit payments from late L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

Wiretaps of conversations between Mr Herzog and Mr Sarkozy, who used a secret phone bought under the alias of "Paul Bismuth", purportedly reveal the two men making plans to have Mr Azibert help to sway the inquiry.

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

Mr Sarkozy, meanwhile, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair.

But investigators are still probing allegations that he received millions of euros in funding from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi towards his 2007 election campaign.

Mr Sarkozy is also accused of fraudulently overspending on the 2012 race.

Only one other French president, Mr Sarkozy's political mentor Jacques Chirac, has been put on trial after leaving office, although he was excused from attending his 2011 corruption trial due to ill health.

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