A court has found Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentenced the former French president to three years in prison with two of them suspended.
France’s president from 2007 to 2012 was accused of forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer and a senior magistrate. Judges said there was
“serious evidence” of collaboration between the three men to break the law.
The court had heard how Sarkozy instructed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, to offer the magistrate a cushy job on the Côte d’Azur in return for information on a separate investigation centred on the rightwing politician.
It is unlikely the former president will spend a day in jail. The one-year prison sentence can be served with certain conditions, including the wearing of an electronic bracelet, or limited home confinement.
Sarkozy is expected to appeal against the conviction.
The verdict, delivered on Monday afternoon, will quash his hopes of returning to public life in time for next year’s presidential election. His centre-right Les Républicains 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.
Judge Christine Mée, the president of the tribunal, said there was serious evidence of a “corruption pact” between Sarkozy, Herzog and the senior magistrate Gilbert Azibert. Herzog and Azibert were given similar sentences.
The verdict was announced in shocked silence in the Paris court. The three men left the building without making any statement.
The case, based on telephone taps, became known as the “Bismuth affair”; Paul Bismuth was the name the former president employed in connection to two burner telephones used to communicate with Herzog.
Sarkozy had repeatedly denied the accusations of wrongdoing and spent years attempting to have the charges thrown out and the case dismissed.
Herzog argued the recorded conversations between him and Sarkozy were covered by client-lawyer privilege and could not be used as evidence.
Before his trial last year, Sarkozy had said he welcomed the hearing as a chance to “clean my name”.
“I am combative. I have no intention of being accused of things I haven’t done. I’m not corrupt and what has been inflicted on me is a scandal that will rest in the annals. The truth will out,” Sarkozy told BFMTV.
French detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared €50m donation from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.
What they heard from the recorded conversations pointed investigators in a new and unexpected direction. They revealed the former president and Herzog were “secretly” communicating using mobile telephones registered under false names.
Additional wiretaps on these phones picked up conversations suggesting Sarkozy had been in contact with Azibert, then a member of the cour de cassation – the highest court in France – via Herzog to request confidential information about a separate investigation into whether Sarkozy received donations from the ailing L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
The Bettencourt case was eventually dropped, but by then an investigation into corruption and influence peddling relating to the wiretaps had been opened.
Sarkozy has always strenuously denied any wrongdoing in all past and present investigations. He has previously claimed the Bismuth accusations were “an insult to my intelligence”. However, he is expected to appear in court later this month in yet another case, the “Bygmalion affair”, in which he is accused of overspending on his 2012 re-election bid.
He is also being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanour” related to consulting activities in Russia.
Sarkozy supporters have accused French judges of making the former president the target of an unfair and relentless legal crusade.
He became the first former president to appear in court on criminal charges. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was charged and convicted, receiving a two-year suspended sentence, over fake jobs at City Hall when he was mayor of Paris – but was spared taking the stand because of ill health.
At the end of his two-week trial last year, Sarkozy’s said: “This case has been for me the stations of the cross. But if that was the price to pay for the truth to come out, I am ready to accept it … I still have confidence in the justice of our country.”
Herzog was convicted of breaching the rules of professional secrecy between him and his client, Sarkozy.
Sudan Coup Attempt Fails
A coup attempt in Sudan reportedly failed early Tuesday.
Top military and government sources told AFP that the attempt involved a group of officers who were “immediately suspended” after they
“failed” to take over the state media building.
“There has been a failed coup attempt, the people should confront it,” state television said, without elaborating.
Senior member of Sudan’s ruling body, Taher Abuhaja, said “an attempt to seize power has been thwarted.”
Another senior ruling body member, Mohamed al-Fekki said: “Everything is under control and the revolution is victorious.”
Traffic appeared to be flowing smoothly in central Khartoum, AFP correspondents reported, including around army headquarters, where protesters staged a mass sit-in that eventually led to Bashir’s ouster in a palace coup.
Security forces did however close the main bridge across the Nile connecting Khartoum to its twin city Omdurman.
Sudan is currently ruled by a transitional government composed of both civilian and military representatives that was installed in the aftermath of Bashir’s April 2019 overthrow and is tasked with overseeing a return to full civilian rule.
The August 2019 power-sharing deal originally provided for the formation of a legislative assembly during a three-year transition, but that period was reset when Sudan signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups last October.
More than two years later, the country remains plagued by chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime as well as deep divisions among the various factions steering the transition.
The promised legislative assembly has yet to materialise.
The government, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, has vowed to fix the country’s battered economy and forge peace with rebel groups who fought the Bashir regime.
In recent months, his government has undertaken a series of tough economic reforms to qualify for debt relief from the International Monetary Fund.
The steps, which included slashing subsidies and a managed float of the Sudanese pound, were seen by many Sudanese as too harsh.
Sporadic protests have broken out against the IMF-backed reforms and the rising cost of living, as well as delays to deliver justice to the families of those killed under Bashir.
On Monday, demonstrators blocked key roads as well as the country’s key trade hub, Port Sudan, to protest the peace deal signed with rebel groups last year.
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German Lawmakers Quiz Merkel’s Likely Successor Over Corruption Charge
A top contender for Angela Merkel’s office as chancellor will on Monday face an investigation into an anti-money laundering agency overseen by his ministry.
The appearance of Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Merkel, before the German parliament’s finance committee comes less than a week before Germans go to the polls in national elections on September 26.
MPs from opposition parties will have the opportunity to ask Scholz questions via video link after the finance and justice ministries were raided by prosecutors on September 9 as part of a probe into the Cologne-based Financial Intelligence Unit.
The body, part of Germany’s customs authority tasked with tackling money laundering, is suspected of failing to report potential wrongdoing to the relevant authorities.
Merkel’s conservative bloc has seen a steady decline in opinion polls under unpopular candidate Armin Laschet, allowing Scholz’s centre-left Social Democratic Party to grab a late polling lead.
“Nerves at the SPD are shredded” at the prospect that the scandal could have an impact on the party’s poll ratings, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.
But prosecutors are also under scrutiny over the timing of their raids.
The under-pressure conservatives have seized the opportunity to attack Scholz for his involvement in the controversy.
In a televised election debate last Sunday, Laschet said the result of the finance minister’s actions was that “supervision had failed” and accused Scholz of trying to brush the issue under the carpet.
In response, Scholz distanced himself from the unit, saying the raids “had nothing to do with the ministries”, and accused Laschet of asking “dishonest” questions.
Scholz has previously been criticised for the failure of his ministry to heed early warning signs from the payments company Wirecard, which collapsed last year after acknowledging a 1.9-billion-euro ($2.2-billion) hole in its accounts.
The finance minister appeared in front of a parliamentary inquiry into Wirecard earlier this year, where he denied responsibility for the collapse of the company.
On the campaign trail, Scholz has defended his response to Wirecard, saying that he has led an effort to strengthen Germany’s financial watchdog in the aftermath.
“We did what we had to do,” Scholz said when confronted with accusations in a televised debate.
Scholz has also come under fire over Germany’s “cum-ex” tax fraud saga, a complicated share dividend scam that went on for years and is estimated to have cost the state some 5.5 billion euros.
The former mayor of Hamburg has denied putting pressure on the city’s tax authorities after meeting with the owner of a bank implicated in the scandal in 2016.
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ECOWAS Gives Guinea Military Deadline To Restore Democracy
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ordered the Guinean military to restore democracy in the country after its coup against the civilian government.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, stated this yesterday while representing President Muhammadu Buhari at the Extraordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS member-states on the political situation in the Republics of Guinea and Mali, which held in Accra, Ghana.
According to the communique issued at the end of the extraordinary summit, ECOWAS leaders have resolved to freeze the financial assets of members of the military junta, place a travel ban on them, while also demanding that the junta return Guinea to constitutional rule within six months.
READ ALSO: ECOWAS Suspends Guinea Over Military Coup
At the last summit of ECOWAS leaders which held virtually on September 8, Nigeria, also represented by VP Osinbajo, condemned the coup de‘tat in Guinea, calling for an unconditional release of President Alpha Conde, and for stringent measures on Guinea’s military junta.
At the Accra summit, Prof. Osinbajo restated Nigeria’s position, urging the unconditional release of President Condé and calling for more pressure to be put on the country’s military leaders to return the nation to democratic rule.
The vice president said : “It is also important that ECOWAS should simply insist that there should be an immediate return to civil rule.”
Calling for more stringent measures to be taken by the sub-regional body, Prof. Osinbajo said “we must make sure that sanctions by ECOWAS achieve the intended objectives.”
The vice president restated the call to engage global bodies and Africa’s development partners in taking steps to prevent such unconstitutional change of government in countries on the continent.
He said: “In this connection, I think we should engage all well-meaning stakeholders including the Africa Union, European Union, United Nations, developmental partners, and financial institutions to join in taking more stringent measures by imposing travel bans and freezing of offshore financial assets of the coupists and their collaborators to ensure that they do return the country to democracy immediately.”
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