Sarkozy makes French history with second conviction in a year

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech on a sidelines of a ceremony held to award Mayor of Calais as Knight of the Legion of Honour in the city hall in Calais, northern France, on Sept. 22, 2021. (Francois Lo Presti/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
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Gaspard Sebag Bloomberg News (TNS)

Nicolas Sarkozy became France’s first ex-head of state to be convicted of a crime twice in one year after he was found guilty of deliberately breaking campaign-finance rules in his failed 2012 re-election bid.

The Paris criminal court ruled Thursday that Sarkozy brushed aside accountants’ warnings and knowingly exceeded spending limits in a bid to win over voters. Judge Caroline Viguier handed him a one-year sentence but his lawyer said he would appeal, which suspends its entry into force.

Sarkozy “had been warned in writing” by accountants yet “continued to host rallies,” allowing spending to spiral out of control, Viguier said. “It wasn’t his first campaign, he had experience as a candidate.”

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In Thursday’s ruling, French judges said Sarkozy’s relentless campaigning racked up costs of around 42.7 million euros ($49.5 million), or about twice as much as was legally allowed. During the trial, Sarkozy denied all the allegations saying he had to defend his honor with “passion.”

It’s another humiliating defeat for Sarkozy who was convicted of corruption earlier this year. Despite this, he remains influential and well-liked among right-wing voters. Current president Emmanuel Macron and Sarkozy are on friendly terms, and members of his Les Republicains party are anxious to know who he will back in the 2022 presidential election.

Sarkozy didn’t appear in court on Thursday. His lawyer Thierry Herzog said to journalists his client intended to appeal, adding that he has been unfairly convicted to the maximum sentence.

Judge Viguier said the former leader of the French Republic could have served his 12-month sentence by wearing an electronic bracelet but that threat was removed with the intention to appeal.

The case is known as the Bygmalion affair, after a communications company hired to organize Sarkozy’s rallies during the 2012 election fight. It has become a symbol of the bitter infighting within the ranks of the center-right party he used to lead, with various factions trying to shift the blame throughout the investigation.

Since leaving office, Sarkozy’s life has been a legal marathon. In March, he was found guilty of corruption in a job-for-favors scandal, becoming the country’s second head of state in the modern era to be convicted after leaving office, and the first to get a non-suspended sentence. Late President Jacques Chirac had a two-year suspended term in 2011 for misusing Paris city funds.

Prior to his legal woes, Sarkozy had climbed the ladder of French politics at a breathtaking pace. Mayor of a rich Paris suburban town before he hit 30 and elected to parliament shortly after, Sarkozy took his first ministerial role in 1993.

Elected as president in 2007 he is known for his brash style and made an unsuccessful comeback in 2016, losing the contest to be the center-right presidential candidate in the following year’s election.

In recent months, he’s said he wouldn’t attempt yet another comeback.

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