France’s former president Sarkozy returns to court for campaign finance violations after trial halted in March

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is set to appear in a court in Paris for a campaign finance violation trial. He was previously convicted of trying to bribe a judge in a separate case.

The trial was adjourned on its opening day in March after a lawyer for one of the defendants was hospitalized with Covid-19. The hearings resume on Thursday and are scheduled to continue until June 22.

Sarkozy, who led France between 2007 and 2012, and 13 co-defendants are accused of having spent roughly 20 million euros ($24.4 million) above the legally-allowed threshold on the president’s failed re-election bid, and of using a friendly PR firm, Bygmalion, to hide the costs. 

The money was allegedly spent on lavish campaign events in Paris and other cities during the later stage of the race, including bombastic rallies, some of which involved 100,000 participants. Ten defendants are specifically accused of having forged accounting documents in order to hide the true extent of the campaign’s funds and expenditure from regulators.

Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that he was unaware of the fake billing. He faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to €3,750 ($4,575) if convicted.

Jerome Lavrilleux, Sarkozy’s deputy campaign chief in 2012 and one of the defendants, has publicly admitted to overseeing the hiding of the funds through Bygmalion, but has said he acted on his own initiative, according to Reuters.

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FILE PHOTO. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at Paris courthouse, France on March 1, 2021.
French ex-president Sarkozy on trial over ‘illegal financing’ of 2012 campaign, two weeks after corruption conviction

In early March, Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in prison with two years suspended for corruption and influence-peddling. The court found the former president guilty of having offered a judge a job in Monaco in exchange for information on an inquiry into his campaign finances. Recordings of phone calls between Sarkozy and a lawyer, who was also his longtime friend, were among the evidence presented to the court. Sarkozy’s team promised to appeal the verdict.

Sarkozy’s lawyer in that case argued that the recorded conversation was just “idle chatter” between a lawyer and his client. Sarkozy also maintained that there was no real proof that he had ever intended to bribe the judge. “It’s an injustice. I will fight till the end for the truth to triumph,” he told TF1 TV channel in March.

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