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Sarkozy back in court to appeal corruption conviction

PARIS – Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to appear in a court in Paris on Wednesday to appeal a one-year jail sentence for illegal campaign financing.

The 68-year-old right-winger has faced a litany of legal problems since his one term in office from 2007 until 2012, and has been charged separately with corruption, bribery, influence-peddling, and breaking campaign financing laws.

In the so-called “Bygmalion affair”, the former head of state was sentenced to one year in prison in September 2021 on charges that his right-wing party, then known as the UMP, worked with a public relations firm to hide the true cost of his 2012 re-election bid.

France sets strict limits on campaign spending.

Prosecutors said that the firm, Bygmalion, invoiced UMP rather than the campaign. They said Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million euros on his 2012 campaign, almost double the permitted amount of 22.5 million euros.

Thirteen other people — including members of the UMP party, accountants and Bygmalion executives — were found guilty of various charges, ranging from forgery and fraud to complicity in illegal campaign financing.

In the original trial, only four defendants, including the deputy head of the campaign, Jerome Lavrilleux, admitted any responsibility.

Sarkozy denied all wrongdoing, insisting that while there had indeed been “false invoices and fictitious agreements… the money had not gone into (his) campaign”.

The appeal trial is scheduled to last nearly five weeks.

Contacted by AFP, Sarkozy’s lawyers declined to issue any statements prior to the hearing.

– Still influential –

Sarkozy, who was criticised by the prosecution in the original trial for only turning up for the day of his actual hearing and deeming himself to be “above the fray”, is expected to attend some of the most important sessions this time around.

Last month, following 30 hours of questioning over nearly four days, Sarkozy was charged as part of a separate investigation into possible witness tampering.

A key witness in that case, Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, had claimed he delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros in cash in 2006 and 2007.

But in 2020 Takieddine suddenly retracted his incriminating statement, raising suspicions that Sarkozy may have put pressure on the witness to change his mind.

That case was related to allegations that Sarkozy took money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to fund his 2007 election campaign and for which he will stand trial in early 2025.

The trial is set to hear explosive evidence that Sarkozy, along with 12 other co-defendants, conspired to take cash from the Libyan leader to illegally fund his victorious 2007 bid for the presidency.

Sarkozy faces a separate probe into possible potential influence-peddling after he received a payment by Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of three million euros in 2019 while working as a consultant.

Despite his legal troubles, Sarkozy remains a hugely influential figure on the French right, courted by politicians and writing regular books that are major publishing events.

In his latest work, published this summer, Sarkozy said he would like his protege and current Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to succeed Emmanuel Macron as president, noting his “evident qualities”.

Sarkozy has also maintained a relationship with Macron and French media have said the pair have dined together on numerous occasions to talk politics with the latest such encounter in September, according to the Le Parisien daily.

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