Written by Laure Renault
On March 1st, Nicolas Sarkozy became the second former French president to be convicted in the French Fifth Republic. He has been sentenced to three years, though he has decided to appeal the outcome. This is particularly poorly timed for the politician and his party, les Republicains, as rumours were getting stronger about him potentially being the right wing candidate for the 2022 presidential elections.
The former president has been convicted as a result of his alleged actions in 2014. He is suspected of having tried to obtain confidential information from High Magistrate Gilbert Azibert regarding another legal case he was involved in. These accusations are based on intercepted conversations between the president and his lawyer, made on ready-to-call prepaid devices bought under the name ‘Paul Bismuth’. In return, Gilbert Azibert was to get Mr. Sarkozy’s support for a position in Monaco. The former president and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, are thus facing accusations of influence peddling and corruption. This case sparked controversy in France as Mr. Sarkozy's lawyers placed a strong emphasis on the means used by the court to discover this information. Indeed, they have repeatedly pointed out the undemocratic and non-liberal character of the tapes used against their client. This argument is particularly pertinent in the country considering the scandal of 1993 involving François Mitterand. The former president bugged and put under surveillance around 2000 people, ranging from journalists to politicians, between 1983 and 1986 under the guise of countering terrorist threats.
Nonetheless, even if Sarkozy’s appeal is successful, it is far from the only problem the Republican politician is facing. He still has two other lawsuits awaiting a verdict. It was during the investigation for one of these cases that the phone used for the conversation between him and Thierry Herzog was discovered. The former president is suspected of having received funding from a group of Libyan politicians, including Mouammar Kadhafi, for his presidential campaign in 2007. He is thus on trial for conspiracy. The second case, the Bygmalion lawsuit, is linked to the 2012 presidential campaign. He is accused of misappropriation of funds, being suspected, with other members of the party, of having falsified invoices to use almost 20m€ more than legally authorised towards his campaign. Needless to say, this is not the last time he will have to face a judge.
The future seems quite bleak as of now for Mr. Sarkozy and his party. Les Republicains have not yet put forward a clear candidate for 2022, but the former president has strong support from within the party, including from its president, Christian Jacob, who spoke to the media in his favour regarding his lawsuit. Les Republicains already lost their chance at the 2017 elections because of a scandal around their candidate, François Fillon, for misappropriation of public funds. The now-retired politician was found guilty in 2020 and was sentenced to three years in prison and a 375,000€ fine. Criminal cases run deep in the party and in French politics in general. Indeed, the first former French president to be found guilty under the French Fifth Republic was Jacques Chirac, member of the then-called UMP. He was sentenced to two years with parole in 2011 for the misuse of public funds between 1992 and 1995. He also came under thorough investigation twice for other cases relating to misappropriation of funds and influence peddling.
This may feel like a redo for Les Republicains, having had a fair share of convicted politicians for similar offenses: e.g. Claude Guéant in 2017, Gaston Flosse in 2014, and Xavier Dugoin in 1999. It is, however, sadly becoming a somewhat usual sight in French politics as the socialist party also has its own convicts (eg: Paul Giacobbi in 2010 and Sylvie Andrieux in 2013), and François Fillon was not the only one in the 2017 elections to have lawsuits filed against him. Indeed, Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, has been under scrutiny since 2017 for breach of trust and misappropriation of funds, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate, was discharged on April 10th of this year for breach of trust and concealment. Nicolas Sarkozy is simply one more politician to now add to this appalling list.
Photo source - Flickr (Jacques Paquier)r