His nickname was “President Bling-Bling” due to his penchant for expensive costumes and lavish lifestyle. Today, former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy is in court on allegations of corruption and influence peddling.
If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of nearly $ 1.2 million. Sarkozy denies the accusations, telling the Paris Criminal Court on Monday: “I do not accept any of the slanders that have been addressed to me over the past six years. ”
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He is the first French president in modern history to appear in court for corruption. The case seized France as the country battled a second deadly wave of coronavirus.
Pierre Haski, journalist and co-founder of the independent French news site Rue89.com, describes the public’s interest in the affair as a morbid fascination. Witnessing a once powerful individual in court and confirming to a judge that his name is Nicolas Sarkozy, he said, is compelling.
“We love to take down our heroes.”
“We love to take down our heroes” – after all, “the French cut off their king’s head 200 years ago.”
The case, known as the “wiretapping affair,” alleges that Sarkozy attempted to bribe a judge, Gilbert Azibert, to hand him confidential information from another investigation into his presidential campaign. In return, Sarkozy is accused of having offered the judge a cushy job in Monaco. The events came to light after investigators tapped Sarkozy’s phone as part of a separate investigation into him: investigators tapped conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, since 2013 , as they examined the Libyan funding allegations of the first. President’s 2007 campaign. The work in Monaco never took place, but prosecutors say Sarkozy’s promise to help Azibert constitutes a crime. Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert are all on trial.
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Right-wing supporters and the former French leader say the case is evidence of a left-wing plot to destroy Sarkozy. They say the liberal judges, whom Sarkozy frequently criticized while in office, are demanding their revenge. In a recent interview with French television channel BFMTV, Sarkozy said what he was undergoing was a scandal.
But the former French leader has plenty of detractors. It was under his presidency that “the ban on the burqa” was introduced in France. French Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani said Sarkozy stigmatized and criminalized the Muslim community in France with this legislation. Ramdani said the ban applied superficially to all head and face coverings, but it was clear who the primary target was.
“The legislation was primarily aimed at putting Muslim women in their shoes and criminalizing suspected men in their lives who forced them to cover their faces, effectively criminalizing anyone who looked Muslim.
“The legislation was primarily aimed at putting Muslim women in their place and criminalizing suspected men in their lives who forced them to cover their faces, effectively criminalizing anyone who looked Muslim,” she said.
It is not only members of the Muslim community in France who despise the former president. Sarkozy’s love for the high life and his relationship with former Italian model Carla Bruni angered many voters. Sarkozy married Bruni, his third wife, after winning the presidency in 2007.
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Ramdani said President Bling-Bling was seen by many as someone who glorified the personal enrichment of society.
“The early days of her tenure were characterized by dinners with her billionaire friends, superyacht vacations and private jets,” she said.
It’s an image Sarkozy tried to change when he ran for re-election ahead of the 2017 presidential election, but he failed even to pass the primaries.
Today’s case is seen not only as a trial for Sarkozy, but as a test of French anti-corruption judges. Never before has a former president been faced with such a litany of allegations. One of the most serious is the claim that Sarkozy received illegal money from the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign. Sarkozy denies the allegation.
Journalist Haski said this month’s case was seen as a test of the French justice system.
“At the end of the day, we’ll see if the judges succeeded in delivering real justice or if the status of president is still unattainable and with good lawyers you can get away with anything,” Haski said.
Dr Rabah Aissaoui, associate professor of French studies at the University of Leicester in Britain, said it would mark a major change in the political system in France if a former president was jailed for corruption. So far, French leaders have been largely protected by the system, he said.
Despite the allegations, Sarkozy remains extremely popular among conservatives in France.
“He is still considered one of the most convincing leaders of the conservative party, Les Républicains en France. ”
“He is still regarded as one of the most convincing leaders of the conservative party, Les Républicains en France,” Aissaoui said.
Sarkozy’s supporters hope not only that he will erase his name in court, but that he will embark on a new race for the Elysee Palace. The former president rejected the idea, but Haski said that for a selfless man to run for office, he maintained remarkably high public notoriety.
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“He has published books, he has signed on tours, he gives paid lectures. Although he has said on several occasions that he has given up politics, he is doing everything he can to stay in the limelight, ”Haski said.
Few think that Sarkozy would succeed in another presidential race. Journalist Ramdani believes that there is a higher probability that Sarkozy will go to jail than to return to high office.
“Even if he is cleared of all the charges, the stench of his alleged criminality will never go away,” Ramdani said.
Court hearings are expected to continue until December 10.