FORMER French president Nicolas Sarkozy is to stand trial for running a corrupt election campaign, it was announced today.
BY EMMA LAKE, PATRICK KNOX AND PETER ALLEN
The 62-year-old political veteran faces jail if found guilty of a range of crimes including fraud, false accounting and breach of trust.
Judge Serge Tournaire’s decision to refer Sarkozy to trial comes as his political party, the Republicans, is immersed in sleaze allegations.
Would-be president Francois Fillon – once Sarkozy’s prime minister – faces prison in connection with a fake jobs scam involving his British wife, Penelope.
This is sure to add to French voters’ growing mistrust of the political establishment as they go to the polls on April 23.
The election could see the populist National Front led by Marine Le Pen on an anti-EU ticket make it to the second round of presidential elections.Sarkozy faces an indictment for “financing an illegal campaign” relating to the so-called Bygmalion Affair, said a judicial source.
Bygmalion was the PR firm which handled the notoriously self-promoting Sarkozy’s appearances during his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
It is said to have used a vast system of false accounting to conceal an alleged explosion of illegal funding for his campaign.
It exceeded the legal limit for funds of £18.5million, with Sarkozy’s team spending the equivalent of at least £33million.Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog said last year that “there was nothing linking President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Bygmalion case”.
But the investigation kept Sarkozy, who is still allowed to use his “president” title after serving a single term of office in the role between 2007 and 2012, tied up in legal proceedings.
The Paris home Sarkozy shares with his third wife, the model and pop singer Carla Bruni, was raided by fraud squad officers within a week of him standing down four years ago.
This was because French presidents are immune from prosecution while in office, and they can only be charged once they leave office.Sarkozy would have avoided trial if he had been elected to serve a second term this year, but he was forced to concede defeat in November 2016 after slipping behind rivals in primary votes.
In his concession speech, Sarkozy said: “I was not able to convince the voters… but I respect the result.”
The 61-year-old added: “I have no bitterness, I have no sadness, and I wish the best for my country.”
In December the former president and Mrs Bruni were pictured in Thailand enjoying some sunshine ahead of Christmas.
Only one other president, Jacques Chirac, has been tried in France’s fifth republic, which was founded in 1958. He was give a two-year suspended jail term in 2011 over a fake job scandal.