Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on trial for corruption

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PARIS – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was tried on Monday for corruption and influence peddling in a wiretapping scandal, a first for the 65-year-old politician who has faced several other legal inquiries since his departure in 2012 .Sarkozy is accused of having attempted to illegally obtain information from a magistrate on an investigation concerning him in 2014.

He is being tried in a Parisian court with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and magistrate Gilbert Azibert, 73. They face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $ 1.2 million. They deny any wrongdoing.

Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of having promised Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into alleged illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France’s richest woman, the heiress L’Oreal Liliane Bettencourt.

Sarkozy arrived at the court surrounded by his lawyers and bodyguards, in the presence of dozens of journalists. The Paris court has been placed under tight security as the hearings of the case, scheduled until December 10, take place alongside another key trial – that of the 2015 attacks in the offices of Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket.

Sarkoy’s trial began Monday afternoon in Azibert’s absence. His lawyer told news channel BFM TV that he intended to request a postponement of the trial, arguing his client’s poor health made it risky for him to travel and appear in court in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2014, Sarkozy and Herzog used secret cell phones – registered under the pseudonym “Paul Bismuth” – to be able to have private conversations because they feared their conversations would be overheard.

Sarkozy and Herzog explained that they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal wiretapping. Investigating judges suspect, however, that they actually wanted to avoid being listened to by investigators.

The judges found that discussions between Sarkozy and his lawyer suggested that they knew that the forensic investigators at the time had put their conversations on their official phones – they mentioned that “the judges were listening”.

Sarkozy argued that he never stepped in to help Azibert, who never got the job and retired in 2014.

The examining magistrates consider that as soon as an offer is made, it constitutes a criminal offense even if the promises are not kept.

The legal proceedings against Sarkozy were dropped in the Bettencourt case.

Sarkozy, a trained lawyer, denounced the judicial harassment, accusing the judges of violating attorney-client privilege by wiretapping.

“I don’t want things that I didn’t do to be held against me. The French need to know… that I am not a rotten person, ”he told BFM TV earlier this month.

He said he faced the trial with a “combative” spirit.

Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011 of embezzlement of public funds, breach of trust and conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison for having acted while he was mayor of Paris, before being president from 1995 to 2007..

Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial inquiries.

The allegations, which include the illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by then Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, cast a shadow over Sarkozy’s attempt to return for the 2017 presidential election.

Not having been chosen as a candidate by his Conservative party, he withdrew from active politics.

Sarkozy has remained the most popular figure among French right-wing voters in recent years. His memoir released this summer, “The Time of Storms,” was a bestseller for weeks.

Sarkozy has been treated with preliminary charges, including “illegal campaign financing” in the Libyan investigation, which has been ongoing since 2013 – and has caused his phones to be wiretapped.

Earlier this month, Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine retracted his previous statements that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros ($ 5.9 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff, Claude Guéant.

Instead, he told the BFM news channel and Paris-Match magazine that there was “no Libyan funding”.

Sarkozy said that the truth is “finally coming out”.

Meanwhile, the former president will stand another trial in the spring of 2021 along with 13 other people accused of illegally funding his 2012 presidential campaign.

His conservative party and a company by the name of Bygmalion are accused of using a special billing system to cover up unauthorized overspending.

They are suspected of having spent 42.8 million euros ($ 50.7 million), nearly double the maximum allowed, to finance the campaign, which ended in the victory of socialist rival François Hollande.

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