Sunday, January 29

Sarkozy case: corruption and influence peddling or conversations between “a concerned client and his caring lawyer”

The trial before the court of appeal of Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling in the so-called “wiretapping case” has been seen for sentencing this week. Sarkozy, his lawyer Thierry Herzog and the former magistrate Gilbert Azibert appeared again before the judges after appealing the decision in the first instance that sentenced them to three years in prison – including one of mandatory prison – for corruption, influence peddling and, in the case of Herzog and Azibert, also for a charge of violation of professional secrecy. The verdict made Sarkozy the first former president of the French Republic to be sentenced to prison.

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On appeal, the Prosecutor’s Office has removed the mandatory year in prison from his petition, although it has maintained the three-year sentence. In addition, prosecutors request a five-year ban on exercising civic rights for Sarkozy and Azibert (implying the impossibility of running for public office and voting, among other things) and maintain the disqualification for the same period that would prevent Herzog from practicing law. . The final sentence will be known on May 17, 2023. In the first trial, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) had requested four years in prison, with two years of mandatory prison, for the three defendants.

The case is based on the content of telephone conversations between Nicolas Sarkozy, alias Paul Bismuth, with his lawyer and friend Thierry Herzog in early 2014. The name Paul Bismuth corresponds to a schoolmate of Herzog’s that the lawyer used in a Nice shop to register the two mobile phones with which he and Sarkozy communicated. The president and his lawyer suspected – correctly – that Sarkozy’s main line had been tapped as part of the investigation into the alleged financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by Gaddafi’s Libya.

However, a phrase in one of the conversations on that main line – “call me on the other phone” – alerted the investigators. The content of the dialogues in this alternative line is the basis of the charges that earned the former head of state, his lawyer and former magistrate Gilbert Azibert the conviction in the first instance. These are 24 conversations between Sarkozy and Herzog in which they discuss the development of the so-called ‘Affaire Bettencourt’, in which Sarkozy was implicated for possible illegal financing of his campaign with money from the billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L’group. Or real. The case against Sarkozy was dismissed.

seized agendas

The problem is that the Prosecutor’s Office had seized several of Sarkozy’s diaries which, despite the dismissal, he feared would be used in his other criminal cases. Herzog briefed his client regularly on the matter thanks to insider knowledge of the case that came to him from his relationship with Azibert. In exchange for this information, according to the accusation, the magistrate should receive the support of the former head of state to obtain an honorary position – and paid 5,000 euros per year – in the judiciary of the Principality of Monaco.

The content of the messages had already been read in the first trial, but during the hearing on December 6 they were heard for the first time in court. “He told me about something in Monaco”, explains Thierry Herzog in one of the fragments, “A job offer that has been submitted, apparently is well placed but maybe you have to lend a hand.” “Does he want to work in Monaco?” Sarkozy replies, “don’t worry, tell him I’ll take care of it because I’m going to Monaco and I’m going to see the prince”.

Every detail of these conversations has been scrutinized by the defense and the prosecution in their pleadings, often with conflicting interpretations. The prosecution maintains that Sarkozy and Herzog did not merely try to obtain information, but also sought to influence the court’s decision through AzibertHence the crime of influence peddling that they are accused of. The defense, for its part, perceives nothing more than “inconsequential conversations” between “a concerned client and his caring attorney.”

One of the main lines of defense is precisely that the attorney-client communications should never have been admitted as evidence. Jacqueline Laffont, Sarkozy’s lawyer in the case, mentioned recent developments in national and European jurisprudence, which in general are strengthening the protection of the secrecy of conversations between a lawyer and her client. “These wiretaps that bring us here could not exist today. So we can avoid a condemnation of France”, he added, in relation to the probable appeal that the defense will present before the European Court of Human Rights if the appeal judges confirm the guilt of the defendants.

“I’ll go all the way”

Both the prosecution and the court that tried the case in first instance consider irrelevant the fact that Gilbert Azibert did not finally obtain a position in Monaco or that the court that tried the Bettencourt case ruled against Sarkozy’s interests in relation to the agenda. According to the law, they have explained, it is not necessary for there to be a counterpart for corruption to occur and “the crime of influence peddling is not measured by its result.”

Nicolas Sarkozy has made an effort before the court to vindicate his innocence “with the greatest firmness”, as well as his intention to cleanse his “honour”, denying “having corrupted anyone”. “I have always hated injustice, Madam President”, Sarkozy explained to the court, “That is why I will go to the end and I will not ask for forgiveness for a crime that I have not committed; I will fight to the end because I am innocent.”

For the former French Head of State, this case is only part of the network of judicial accusations in which he is immersed. Multiple charges hang over him, including the alleged Libyan financing of his 2007 campaign and the conviction in September 2021 – which also implies a year in mandatory prison – in the so-called Bygmalion case, relating to his 2012 campaign. In the latter he has another appeal trial scheduled for November 2023.