Sarkozy Trial: Convicted of Corruption, Why Doesn't He Go to Jail?


Sarkozy Trial: Convicted of Corruption, Why Doesn't He Go to Jail?

SARKOZY. Found guilty of corruption by the Paris Court of Appeal, Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to prison. However, he continues to claim his innocence and is appealing in cassation.

[Updated May 19, 2023 9:33 a.m.] He was found guilty of "active bribery of a magistrate and active influence peddling of a person in public authority". Nicolas Sarkozy was once again convicted in the wiretapping case, also known as "the Paul Bismuth case", this time by the Paris Court of Appeal, on Wednesday May 17, 2023. In this highly publicized case, Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of having, when he was a tenant of the Elysée Palace, used his power with a magistrate (Gilbert Azibert) to obtain information on an ongoing investigation targeting him, in exchange for a prized position, Monaco, through his lawyer Thierry Herzog.

Nicolas Sarkozy received the same sentence as that pronounced at first instance, but this verdict still does not suit the former President of the Republic, any more than his lawyer Me Laffont. Both have promised to go "through" this case. "I will not let myself be condemned when I am perfectly innocent of the nonsense and the montages that have been built against me," said the former head of state in an interview with Le Figaro on May 19. Nicolas Sarkozy denounces the "political fight" that, according to him, several magistrates are leading towards him and maintains that since the start of his trial, "essential principles have been intentionally flouted for the sole purpose of building guilt at all costs".

The Paris Court of Appeal thus pronounced a sentence of three years in prison, including one year. The deliberation goes beyond the requisitions since only three years of suspended prison sentences had been required. The sentence pronounced is similar to that at first instance. However, Nicolas Sarkozy will not go to prison. Indeed, the length of the prison sentence that has been pronounced does not lead to imprisonment. It is suitable for conversion and will be purged by wearing an electronic bracelet, at home. In addition, the former head of state was deprived of his civic rights for three years.

However, it should be noted that the provisional execution of the judgment has not been pronounced. This therefore means that as long as a final conviction, without any further legal action behind it, has been pronounced, the penalty does not apply. As expected, Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he will appeal to the Supreme Court and will therefore not wear an electronic bracelet until then. The decision rendered on May 17 is suspended.

For their part, Thierry Herzog and Gilbert Azibert were sentenced to three years in prison, including one firm, a sentence there also served with the wearing of an electronic bracelet at home. Thierry Herzog was banned from practicing as a lawyer for three years and Gilbert Azibert was deprived of his civic rights for the same period. But with their appeal, it is the same as for Nicolas Sarkozy: the penalties are not (yet?) applied.

In her explanations, President Sophie Clément indicated that "the court considers that these facts are all the more serious since they were committed by a former President of the Republic (…) who was the guarantor of the judicial authority " and that Nicolas Sarkozy "had a duty to be a law-abiding citizen. However, he used his former status as President of the Republic (…) to serve his personal interest."

By promising to go "all the way", Nicolas Sarkozy confirms his desire to appeal to the Court of Cassation in order, perhaps, to reconsider the decision and the sentence pronounced by the Court of Appeal, which provides for one year in prison purge at home with the wearing of an electronic bracelet. Conducting the wiretapping case before this third jurisdiction has a suspensive effect on the verdict of the Court of Appeal and postpones the application of the sentence. Which could be broken and therefore canceled or maintained by the Court of Cassation. The former President of the Republic and his lawyer justify the appeal in cassation by the "serious legal problem since the first day in this case" pointing to the "total absence of evidence" and the inadmissibility of the wiretaps yet registered among the documents in the file. The Sarkozy camp denounces the use of recordings of conversations between the former head of state and his lawyer Thierry Herzog which fall under professional secrecy, which in their view constitutes an attack on a fundamental principle.

The "wiretapping" affair began at the end of 2013. At the time, the justice system was investigating suspicions of Libyan financing of the victorious presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. The judges then decided to put the former president tapped, but realize that he is talking to his lawyer, Me Thierry Herzog, through another line, via a second phone with a prepaid chip, open on the name of Paul Bismuth. This "occult" line was tapped in January 2014.

By analyzing these taps, the magistrates discover that the two men seem to be aware of information which is nevertheless covered by the secrecy of the instruction In total, 19 conversations between the former head of state and his lawyer are listed by the judges. During their discussions, they repeatedly mention a contact by the name of "Gilbert" who works at the Court of Cassation. This is Me Gilbert Azibert, who was then first general counsel at the Court of Cassation.

At the time, the Court of Cassation must render an expected decision on the subject of the seizure of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential diaries in the context of the Bettencourt affair. The former head of state is then prosecuted for "abuse of weakness" on Liliane Bettencourt, recalls Franceinfo. Nicolas Sarkozy finally benefits from a dismissal in this case, but maintains his appeal in cassation so that the information contained in his presidential diaries cannot reappear in other legal proceedings.

During a conversation between Me Thierry Herzog and Nicolas Sarkozy, the two men evoke a service that the former head of state could render to Gilbert Azibert. "He spoke to me about something about Monaco", indicates the lawyer to the former President of the Republic. This "thing on Monaco" is in fact a post at the Council of State in the principality. Justice therefore suspects Nicolas Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog of having tried to obtain information, or even of having tried to influence the decision of the Court of Cassation on the presidential agendas, through Gilbert Azibert, in exchange for an honorary post for the ex-magistrate.

Nicolas Sarkozy has always denied having sealed any "corruption pact" - such the terms used during his conviction at first instance -, simply referring to a "boost". "I spent my life doing that," he said at the helm. At the start of the appeal trial, the 60-year-old said, in an opening statement: "I have never bribed anyone. It's strange bribery, without money, not a penny for anyone, without advantage and without a victim. No one was harmed."

At the helm, Nicolas Sarkozy therefore not only contested the charges brought against him but, above all, the fact of having been wiretapped during his conversations with his lawyer. "The PNF indicated that I behaved like a seasoned delinquent. A seasoned delinquent! A seasoned delinquent, Madame! All because I had used a dedicated laptop. Since then, the Aix Court of Appeal has estimated it was completely legitimate …”, he claimed, citing a judgment rendered by the magistrate who had condemned him at first instance in this case.

In March 2021, Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison, including one year firm, in the "wiretapping" case for "corruption and influence peddling" by the Paris Criminal Court. He later appealed the decision. At the time, the court considered that a "corruption pact" had been concluded between Nicolas Sarkozy, Me Thierry Herzog and Gilbert Azibert. Christine Mée, president of the 32nd correctional chamber of Paris, then declared that Nicolas Sarkozy had "used his status as former president to gratify a magistrate who served his personal interest" in statements reported by Le Monde.

Thierry Herzog was also found guilty of "active corruption" and "violation of professional secrecy", and was sentenced to three years in prison, two of which were suspended, along with a ban on practicing as a lawyer for five years. Gilbert Azibert was found guilty of "passive corruption" and "concealment of breach of professional secrecy", and was also sentenced to three years in prison, two of which were suspended. Both the lawyer and the senior magistrate appealed against the conviction.