Former President Sarkozy Sentenced to Prison for Violation of Campaign Spending
PARIS – A French court on Thursday sentenced Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, to one year in prison for illegally financing his failed 2012 re-election campaign by greatly exceeding France’s strict election spending limits.
Mr. Sarkozy, 66, was president from 2007 to 2012. If he is no longer active in politics and continues to be plagued by multiple legal entanglements, he remains an influential voice of the French right. Shortly after the verdict, his lawyer announced that Mr. Sarkozy would appeal the conviction.
This is the second time that Mr. Sarkozy has been sentenced to prison. In March, he became the first former president in recent French history to be sentenced to prison after being convicted of bribery and influence peddling for attempting to illegally obtain information from a judge on a court case against him.
Mr. Sarkozy appealed against this sentence, which suspended the sentence. Yet that makes him the second former president in modern French history to be convicted of a crime – Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 of embezzlement and embezzlement of public funds when he was mayor from Paris.
The verdict against Mr Sarkozy on Thursday came after a years-long investigation and trial in May and June, both focused on his 2012 re-election campaign and France’s strict electoral rules.
Under French law, campaign spending is capped to ensure that candidates compete on an equal footing. In 2012, the limit for presidential campaigns, per candidate, was around €$ 16.8 million, or about $ 19.7 million, in the first round of elections, and about €5.7 million, or about 6.7 million dollars, in addition to those of the second round for the two main voters, including Mr. Sarkozy.
But suspicions that his campaign exceeded those limits arose after the election. Prosecutors opened an investigation in 2014, causing unrest within Mr. Sarkozy’s political party.
Ultimately, prosecutors determined that the campaign had spent at least €42 million, or about 50 million dollars, almost double the legal limit.
The case became known as the Bygmalion Affair, named after the public relations and events organization suspected of issuing bogus invoices to Mr Sarkozy’s political party for rallies that were in made for Mr. Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. Prosecutors argued that the purpose of the fraud was to hide the overspending from election officials.
Mr Sarkozy has denied being aware of any false invoicing and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing in this regard. Instead, the charges of illegal campaign finance only relate to overspending, for which he has already paid a fine.
During the trial, Mr Sarkozy rejected the prosecution’s description of a lavish campaign, suggesting that the fake invoices had instead been used to enrich Bygmalion – led at the time by close friends of Jean-François Cope, the president of Mr. Sarkozy’s party and one of the former leader’s political rivals.
Mr Sarkozy also claimed that in 2012 he had been extremely busy with his presidential duties and had barely been involved in campaign budgeting and logistics.
“I was president, leader of the Group of 20, and during the campaign, I led the political strategy,” Sarkozy told the court in June. “The organization of the rallies, the sound system, the lighting, I had better things to do. “
But prosecutors claimed that Sarkozy had neglected the warnings of his aides, especially on a profusion of campaign events, some of them costly and large-scale rallies. As a seasoned politician with years of experience, prosecutors argued, he could not have ignored signs that his campaign spending was getting out of hand.
Thirteen other people were also accused of involvement in the fraud, including former campaign staff, party officials, relatives of Mr Sarkozy and former Bygmalion cadres. But prosecutors concluded that there was not enough evidence to determine who organized the bogus billing system in the first place.
Mr. Sarkozy has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the network of court cases that has tormented him since he left office. Some of them were dropped, including one in which he was accused of manipulating the heir to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune to finance his 2007 presidential bid.
But Mr. Sarkozy is still being prosecuted by accusations that his campaign has benefited from illegal funding from the government of the Libyan strongman, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who died in 2011. The investigation into these accusations , the most serious against him to date, is still ongoing.
Despite a failed comeback attempt in 2016, Mr. Sarkozy is still popular with the grassroots of his conservative party, Les Républicains, which has yet to vote on a candidate for the 2022 presidential election. Mr. Sarkozy’s endorsement is coveted by many who are fighting for the job.
Constant Meheut contributed reports.