Paris, March 01:
The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty on Monday by a court in Paris on charges of corruption and influence peddling.
The verdict was the culmination of just one of several long-running legal entanglements that are coming to a head for Sarkozy, 66, who led France from 2007 to 2012 and is still widely popular among conservatives.
Sarkozy’s conviction was only the second time in modern history that a former French president has been convicted of a crime.
He was found guilty of trying to illegally obtain information on another legal case against him from a judge in return for promises to use his influence to secure a prestigious job for the judge.
He received a three-year prison sentence, with two of those years suspended. However, it was widely expected that Sarkozy would appeal, a process that would place the sentence on hold.
Until Monday, only one president in recent French history had been found guilty by a court of law: Jacques Chirac, who was convicted in 2011 of embezzling and misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris. Mr. Chirac was the first French head of state to stand trial since Marshal Philippe Pétain was found guilty of treason at the end of World War II for collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Chirac, however, was tried in absentia because of his poor mental health, and last year Sarkozy became the first French president to physically attend his own trial since 1945.
Sarkozy, who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and mounted a failed comeback attempt in 2016, has denied wrongdoing in a complex web of financial impropriety cases that has plagued him since he left office.
He is scheduled to stand trial later this month in a separate case involving his 2012 campaign, in which he has been charged with exceeding strict limits on campaign spending. The longest-running and most serious case against him involves accusations that his 2007 campaign received illegal Libyan financing from the government of the now-dead strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Other cases against Sarkozy have been dropped, including one in which he was accused of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune into financing his 2007 campaign.
The verdict came amid a heating political climate in France as the country gears up for the 2022 presidential election.
Sarkozy is on good terms with President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently steered France to the right, and he still wields considerable influence on the main political party in France, Les Républicains. With the presidential election fast approaching and no clear front-runners in sight, Sarkozy’s blessing is widely sought by party officials.
The case on Monday, known as the “wiretapping affair,” was the first against him to finally reach trial, as Sarkozy — a lawyer by training — used every legal recourse available to him to draw out proceedings.
Although the cases are separate, the wiretapping affair emerged from the Libya inquiry, which began in 2013 and led investigators to place wiretaps on phones belonging to Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog, his lawyer.
Through the wiretaps, prosecutors claimed in court, investigators discovered in 2014 that Sarkozy and Herzog were using secret phone lines and that the two had discussed ways of obtaining confidential information about another case involving the former president that was being handled by France’s top appeals court.
Prosecutors said Sarkozy sought to illegally obtain information from Gilbert Azibert, then a magistrate at the court, including by promising to use his influence to secure a job for the judge in Monaco.
The job never materialized, but under French law, prosecutors do not have to prove that a corrupt deal was carried out to secure a conviction — only that one was agreed upon. At the trial, held in November and December, prosecutors accused Sarkozy of entering a “corruption pact” with Azibert, a charge he strenuously denied.
Sarkozy’s defense had asked the court to throw out the entire case, arguing that wiretapping his phone calls with Mr. Herzog was illegal and that prosecutors had taken fragments of casual conversations out of context to cobble together a faulty case.
Azibert and Herzog were also found guilty by the court.