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20.06.2019 Europe

Former French president Sarkozy will face corruption trial

By RFI
REUTERS/Charles Platiau
JUN 20, 2019 EUROPE

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy lost his final bid to avoid an influence peddling and corruption trial, after a ruling was handed down that a trial was justified.

The French Court of Cassation, which rules on legal questions, said on Tuesday that the trial was justified for the former president as well as his lawyer Thierry Herzog and former judge Gilbert Azibert.

The influence peddling allegation comes from telephone conversations between Herzog and Azibert that were wiretapped and recorded by investigators who were looking into another case about Sarkozy receiving money for his 2007 presidential campaign.

The original probe concentrated on claims that L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt gave him the money, but he was cleared of this allegation in 2013.

Investigators suspect the recorded conversations between the then-president and his lawyer were about seeking information into the Bettencourt money case, with Sarkozy allegedly offering Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange.

Investigators reveal that Sarkozy and his lawyer used cellphones and false names to communicate. Sarkozy was called Paul Bismuth.

Sarkozy's lawyers said that Azibert never got the job, which proves his innocence, while the probe says that the deal fell through because Sarkozy and his lawyer learned their phones were tapped.

But Sarkozy's lawyers believe that wiretapping ordered for one case but used in another is contrary to the European Court of Human Rights.

"These legal issues are still relevant," said Jacqueline Laffont, Sarkozy's lawyer, on Wednesday. "It will be for the court to decide whether a French court can override a decision of the European Court of Human Rights," she added.

Sarkozy was the first former French president taken in by police for questioning in 2014, although he is not the first to be prosecuted. Jacques Chirac was given a suspended sentence for embezzling funds in 2011, charges that stemmed from his time as the mayor of Paris.

Sarkozy had made efforts to avoid another illicit financing trial for his failed 2012 presidential campaign, where prosecutors allege Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million euros, nearly twice the legal limit of 22.5 million euros, on his re-election bid, using fake invoices.

The ex-president said that he did not know that fraud was committed by Bygmalion public relations firm, which is among the 13 people likely to face trial.

He lost his appeal last month.

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