Sarkozy breaks silence over illegal campaign financing sentence

‘People aren’t fooled’: Nicolas Sarkozy, 65, breaks silence over illegal campaign financing sentence as he plays down conviction at book signing

  • French court found Sarkozy guilty of illegal campaign financing on Friday
  • Court found he spent almost double allotted £19.5million on his reelection bid
  • He has been sentenced to a year in jail, which judge said he can serve at home 
  • At a book signing on Saturday in Paris, Sarkozy played down the conviction – his second this year – saying the French public ‘aren’t fooled’ by the ruling

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has broken his silence after being handed a prison sentence for illegal campaign financing, playing down the conviction.

Speaking on Saturday at a book signing, Sarkozy – who was convicted over his failed 2012 re-election bid – suggesting many people in France had doubts about this week’s guilty verdict.

Sarkozy, 66, made spoke on the conviction – his second conviction this year – at a Paris bookshop where he was to sign copies of his new book ‘Promenades’, which is focused on his literary and cultural influences.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy speaks with his supporters during a signing session for his new book ‘Promenades’ (walks), in Paris on October 2, 2021

Hundreds of people gathered at the Lamartine bookshop to greet the former leader despite the verdict, something Sarkozy said was ‘very moving and very reassuring, regarding the state of the country’s morale. People aren’t fooled.’

Sarkozy, who remains influential in conservative circles, was sentenced to a one-year prison term on September 30, but is unlikely to go to jail.

He denies wrongdoing and has vowed to appeal the sentence, a move that in effect suspends it, and the judge said he could serve the sentence at home with an electronic tag.

Sarkozy’s supporters have criticised the verdict as politically motivated, but his second conviction this year marks a sharp fall from grace for the man who led France from 2007 to 2012.

Sarkozy was found guilty in a separate trial in March of trying to bribe a judge and peddle influence in order to obtain confidential information on a judicial inquiry. He also denied wrongdoing in that case.

The two convictions could force Sarkozy to play a more discreet role in next year’s presidential election. He had not planned to stand but, as a popular figure on the political right, he would be expected to support his party’s candidate.

Speaking on Saturday at a book signing, Sarkozy – who was convicted over his failed 2012 re-election bid – suggesting many people in France had doubts about this week’s guilty verdict

Potential presidential candidates who also belong to Sarkozy’s Les Republicains party – Xavier Bertrand, Valerie Pecresse and Michel Barnier – tweeted message of support for Sarkozy, saying they backed his decision to appeal.

Prosecutors had been asking for at least six months of actual jail time for Sarkozy, along with a six month suspended sentence. His legal team have filed an appeal, which effectively suspends the sentence until their case is heard.  

Following the conviction, Supermodel Carla Bruni, 53, shared a photograph to Instagram showing her embracing her husband in her arms alongside a lengthy swathe of text written by Sarkozy in French to thank his supporters.

She was photographed on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday night, seemingly unfazed by the impending verdict.

Thursday’s sentence comes six months after Sarkozy was handed another one-year jail term with two years suspended for trying to bribe a judge.

At the time, Bruni called the verdict ‘senseless harassment’ while vowing to fight on so ‘truth will see the light’. 

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives to meet the readers of his latest book “Promenades” at a bookstore in Paris, France, October 2, 2021

Sarkozy’s legal team have also lodged an appeal in that case, meaning he remains a free man for the time being. 

His legal woes are set to continue, however, with more corruption cases pending including allegations that he received millions in laundered money from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. 

It is unlikely that Sarkozy will ever see the inside of a jail cell, but Bruni has alleged that was never the point of the allegations and believes her husband’s political opponents wanted to disqualify him from taking another run at the presidency. 

‘They’re all lies, incredible lies. I’m so surprised it lasted,’ she told The Times in an interview earlier this year.

‘I’m so surprised it became so political, but they achieved their goal because he’s out of politics for ever.’

In the campaign financing case, Sarkozy had been accused of spending almost double the £19.5million allotted for reelection campaigns under French law, during the 2012 reelection bid he lost to Francois Hollande.

Carla Bruni, Sarkozy’s wife who has staunchly defended him against corruption allegations, has yet to react to the latest sentence (pictured at Paris Fashion Week Wednesday night)

Bruni posted a message from her husband to Instagram which translated to English as: ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart all those who have stood by me’

Supermodel Carla Bruni, 53, shared a photograph to Instagram showing her embracing Sarkozy in her arms inside their home alongside a lengthy swathe of text in French following his conviction

Prosecutors say Sarkozy was warned close to election day that his campaign had almost reached the spending limit, but that he continued organising large rallies.

The campaign eventually spent nearly £37million, but could not prevent Sarkozy from losing the race.  

Sarkozy’s allies were then accused of working with a PR company called Bygmalion to cover up the spending.

The court heard how Sarkozy officials came up with the idea of setting up bogus ‘conventions’ that would appear on false invoices as part of the cover-up. 

During the hearing, Sarkozy’s legal team told the court that the extra money did not go into his campaign, but instead helped make other people richer.

They denied any ‘fraudulent intent’ while insisting that Sarkozy did not handle any day-to-day organisation and could therefore not be blamed. 

Sarkozy was not in court and was instead represented by lawyer Thierry Herzog (pictured), with the judge reprimanding him for ‘undermining democracy’ by not showing up

Prosecutors admitted that Sarkozy was not directly involved in the cover-up, but said must have known his campaign over-spent and ‘voluntarily’ turned a blind eye to it.

Lawyers also argued that, as head of the campaign, he must bear ultimate responsibility for how it was run and financed.

The scandal has become known in France as the ‘Bygmalion case’, after the PR firm involved in it.

Sarkozy refused to attend court today and left his legal team to represent him, just as he has done throughout the process.

The snub led to severe criticism, with prosecutors Vanessa Perrée and Nicolas Baïetto accusing him of ‘undermining the values of democracy’. 

Sarkozy was in the dock with 13 associates including members of his conservative Republicans party, accountants and heads of the Bygmalion group.

Former colleagues found guilty alongside him included Jerome Lavrilleux and Guillaume Lambert. 

Jerome Lavrilleux, deputy director of Sarkozy’s 2012 election campaign, faces journalists as he leaves court after hearing the verdict on Thursday

Three of the defendants, who were connected to the PR agency Bygmalion, admitted producing fake receipts.

Others are facing charges including forgery, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing, and have pleaded not guilty.

Sarkozy, a right-wing conservative whose party was called the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) had denied any wrongdoing. 

In March, Sarkozy was convicted of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended.

If still found guilty on appeal, he is likely to be able to serve his sentence at the home he shares with his third wife, the former supermodel Carla Bruni, 53, while wearing an electronic tag.

Sarkozy is also facing allegations that he received millions in laundered money from the late Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Sarkozy’s conservative predecessor as President of France, the late Jacques Chirac, received a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for corruption, but this related to his time as Mayor of Paris.

The last French head of state to go to a prison cell was Marshall Philippe Pétain, the wartime Nazi collaborator.    

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