When the verdict came, it reduced the Paris court to a stunned silence: Nicolas Sarkozy was guilty of corruption and influence peddling, and sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended.
France’s president from 2007 to 2012 had played an “active role” in forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer and a senior magistrate to obtain information on a separate investigation into political donations, the leading judge declared, and there was “serious and concurring evidence” of collaboration between the three men to break the law.
The conviction and sentence were dramatic, unexpected and historic. Sarkozy, 66, had repeatedly declared his innocence and dismissed the charges as an “insult to my intelligence”.
It is, however, unlikely he will spend a day in jail. His lawyer has announced he intends to appeal, a process that would lead to a new trial, and a one-year prison sentence can be served outside jail under certain conditions, including the wearing of an electronic bracelet or limited home confinement.
Sarkozy did not comment as he left the court but his wife, the supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni, on Instagram described the verdict as an “injustice”.
“What relentless nonsense my love,” she wrote. “The battle continues, the truth will out.”
While Sarkozy was not banned from holding public office, the verdict, delivered on Monday afternoon, is likely to quash his hopes of returning to public life in time for next year’s presidential election. His centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party has been struggling to come up with a credible candidate since Sarkozy’s former prime minister François Fillon was engulfed in scandal during the 2017 presidential race, opening the way for Emmanuel Macron to win.
At his trial last year, the court heard how Sarkozy instructed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, to offer the senior magistrate Gilbert Azibert a cushy job on the Côte d’Azur in return for information on an investigation into whether he had received donations from the ailing L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
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