Trial of Éric Dupond-Moretti: one year in prison required, will the minister be convicted?

At the end of a week of trial, a one-year suspended prison sentence was requested on Wednesday against Éric Dupond-Moretti.

Trial of Éric Dupond-Moretti: one year in prison required, will the minister be convicted?

At the end of a week of trial, a one-year suspended prison sentence was requested on Wednesday against Éric Dupond-Moretti. As for the penalty of ineligibility, normally mandatory in the event of conviction, the Attorney General preferred to rely on the “wisdom” of the Court.

Since Monday, November 6, the historic trial of Minister of Justice Éric Dupond-Moretti has been taking place. Historic, because it was the first time that a serving minister was brought to justice. On Wednesday, the requisitions fell. The prosecutor general of the Court of Cassation, Rémy Heitz, demanded from the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR) that the minister tried for illegal taking of interests be found “guilty”, requesting a sentence of one year in prison suspended. However, while the penalty of ineligibility is in principle mandatory in the event of conviction, Rémy Heitz considered that the Court could “dispense with it”, relying on its “wisdom”.

From the start of the trial, the Minister of Justice denounced an “illegitimacy trial” and “intent”. This Wednesday morning, the Minister of Justice reaffirmed his position: "I have always said that I did not have the feeling of being in a conflict of interest, that I had no desire to settle scores with anybody." Éric Dupond-Moretti faces up to five years of imprisonment and a ban on holding public office.

The minister also believes that it was from his entry into the executive that he was targeted. But if a departure from the Chancellery is possible at the end of the trial, the former tenor of the bar will have retained all his ministerial functions during the trial and was able to count on the support of his Prime Minister who assured him of her confidence . The fact remains that if the risk is great for Éric Dupond-Moretti, the trial is being held under conditions which are favorable to him according to several jurists. The verdict is placed in the hands of the CJR, which is known to be lenient in its judgments against politicians.

Only the CJR is empowered to judge a member of the government, it is therefore this body which must rule on the case of Éric Dupond-Moretti. Created in 1993, the CJR ruled on 11 cases and its decisions were often considered too lenient: five suspended sentences, four acquittals and two convictions with exemptions from sentence were handed down.

This indulgence would come, according to the jurists detractors of the CJR, from the composition of the jury formed by three professional magistrates, six deputies and six senators. The majority of jurors therefore come from the political world and could be motivated by political thoughts more than by the application of the law, according to the fears of jurists. For the trial of Éric Dupond-Moretti, of the 12 parliamentary jurors, five are from the majority and seven from the opposition. One name particularly displeased the minister's entourage, that of LFI MP Danièle Obono who belongs to the same political family as Ugo Bernalicis, author of a complaint against the minister. It is a lack of impartiality on the part of the LFI MP that is feared, but this criticism could also be addressed to the members of the majority brought to judge the minister. Note that parliamentarians are required to judge independently of their conviction and political affiliation; they also take an oath.

If the fact of being judged by peers questions the impartiality of the judgment, in the case of the Minister of Justice the question of the impartiality of magistrates also raises difficulties as highlighted by the Attorney General of the Court of Cassation , Remy Heitz. The career of certain magistrates called to testify or judge effectively depends on the minister being judged. “We must rise with the permanent concern for neutrality, objectivity, in a word, impartiality,” he affirmed, adding that “there must only be one victory: that of truth and that of justice.”

Tried for “illegal taking of interests”, Éric Dupond-Moretti faces up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 euros in accordance with article 432-12 of the penal code. This text also specifies that all interests “likely to compromise [the] impartiality, [the] independence or [the] objectivity” of the incriminated person are subject to the sanction. These interests are not necessarily linked to the search for personal financial gains or profits as indicated by a judgment of the Court of Cassation in 2000.

Éric Dupond-Moretti also and above all risks leaving the government if he is found guilty of the facts with which he is accused. An additional sentence of disqualification from holding public office could indeed be imposed. Even without this sentence, the “general rule” that a convicted minister cannot remain in office would apply, as the Prime Minister recalled in October. And if the sentence could be the subject of an appeal in cassation, it would be difficult for the former tenor of the bar as for the head of government to ignore this “general rule”.

If a conviction is possible, an acquittal of the minister is just as possible. The Minister of Justice would then be cleared of all suspicion of justice and could remain at Place Vendôme.

Éric Dupond-Moretti is accused of having used his position as Minister of Justice to carry out retaliatory actions against magistrates in two different cases. According to the investigating commission of the CJR, consulted by franceinfo, the Minister of Justice "retained an interest likely to compromise his impartiality, independence or objectivity" "by initiating then following the contentious administrative investigations" until that Matignon takes over responsibility for these files in October 2020.

After his appointment to the Ministry of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti effectively opened administrative investigations against judge Edouard Levrault then three magistrates from the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF). The first had estimated that his ouster from the principality of Monaco was due to his investigations into the Russian businessman, Dimitri Rybolovlev, and the director of the Monegasque judicial police at the time, Christophe Haget, both men having been defended by Éric Dupond-Moretti. The three others were at the origin of the review of the telephone records of Éric Dupond-Moretti and other lawyers in the so-called "wiretapping" affair concerning Nicolas Sarkozy and in link with Libyan financing. The lawyer then denounced an “abuse of authority” and an “attack on privacy”.