Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced this Thursday to a one-year prison term for illegally financing his campaign in the 2012 presidential elections. It is the second conviction of the former French president in less than a year, after a court in March sentenced him to three years for corruption and influence peddling in another case.
Sarkozy, however, will avoid prison. The penalty of one year can be served at home and controlled by an electronic bracelet. His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, has announced that he will appeal the sentence, which will put it on hold until the case is tried again in the Court of Appeals. The former president has already appealed the March sentence for corruption.
The former president, who only attended one session of the hearings held in May and June, was absent from the reading of the sentence. On Wednesday he was in Madrid to wrap up the leader of the Popular Party, Pablo Casado, at his national convention.
Sarkozy was tried along with 13 other people, which included members of his campaign team, leaders of his party and officials of the communication and events company Bygmalion, which organized the election rallies. The conservative, who had come to power in 2007, lost the 2012 elections to the socialist François Hollande.
The court found it proven that Sarkozy’s campaign widely exceeded the spending ceiling authorized by law of 22.5 million euros, and spent 42.8 million, almost double. To disguise it, much of the spending was assumed, not by the then president’s campaign, but by the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the name of the former president’s party, later renamed Los Republicanos, its current name. Bygmalion issued false invoices stating benefits to the UMP such as conferences or events that never existed.
The former president is also charged with allegedly financing the campaign that brought him to power in 2007 with money from Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
On Thursday, when announcing the sentence for the Bygmalion case, the president of the court, Caroline Viguier, said: “Nicolas Sarkozy knew the amount of the campaign account. His experience as a candidate even allowed him to warn his team of the risk of exceeding it ”.
It was a private campaign. With the polls against, the then president used himself thoroughly. Instead of the 15 planned rallies, he held 44. And they were not regular rallies, but massive events: stages and giant screens, trains chartered with supporters from all over the country, dressing rooms fit for a rock star.
The strategy skyrocketed costs. And it led those responsible for the campaign to devise the system to divert spending to the party and justify it with false invoices. If this gave Sarkozy a competitive advantage in the campaign, it was useless as he ended up losing to Hollande.
The day he testified at the trial, he ignored everything. “I am known to delegate a lot,” he claimed. “I can’t take care of everything.” He also described as a “fable” the idea that his campaign had been anomalous compared to others. “I would like you to explain to me in what sense I campaigned more in 2012 than in 2007. It is false!”
Sarkozy’s sentence is not the most serious among those convicted. Unlike others, he was only accused of illegal financing and not of fraud due to the false invoice system that allowed the illegal financing system to be launched.
The Bygmalyon case He opened a fratricidal war on the right between different leaders who accused each other of being responsible. Neither Sarkozy nor the UMP – now the Republicans – have raised their heads and have not returned to power.
Since his problems with the law began, shortly after leaving the Elysee Palace in 2012, Sarkozy has blamed the judiciary for being cruel to him and treating him with a different yardstick from other citizens.
Pending trials and other open cases make his return to the front line very difficult, but the former president maintains a notable influence on the French right. This influence is palpable in the avalanche of solidarity messages in March, after his conviction for corruption, and this Thursday after his conviction for illegal financing.
Christian Jacob, president of Los Republicanos, wrote on the social network Twitter: “After a court decision that will not stop shocking many compatriots, I want to give testimony on my behalf and on behalf of the Republicans of our affection, our support to Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as our immense pride in having had him as President of the Republic ”.
The main candidates of the right to the presidential elections next April have paraded through his office near the Elysee in search of his blessing. Sympathy with Sarkozy goes beyond his ideological field. The current president, Emmanuel Macron, cultivates his friendship and has several former Sarkozy collaborators in his government, including Prime Minister Jean Castex.
Sarkozy, who sits on various boards of French companies and has just published a book on art and literature, is not a sucker in France. Nor in part from abroad, as demonstrated by his stellar role this week at the Popular Party convention in Madrid.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.