The trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on charges of corruption and abuse of influence was suspended less than two hours after its inception to allow a medical report on one of the accused.
Monday’s investigation is the first of its kind for the 65-year-old politician who has faced several other judicial investigations since he left office in 2012.
Sarkozy is accused of trying to unlawfully obtain information from a judge about an investigation he participated in in 2014.
He is appearing before a court in Paris with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and Judge Gilbert Seibert, 73.
They face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($ 1.2 million). They deny any wrongdoing.
The hearings are scheduled to take place until December 10.
Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by the richest French woman, L’Oréal’s heiress Lillian Bettencourt.
In 2014, Sarkozy and Herzog used secret cell phones – registered with the alias “Paul Bismuth” – to be able to speak in private because they feared their conversations would be eavesdropped.
Sarkozy and Herzog made it clear that they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal phone eavesdropping. However, investigative judges suspect that they really wanted to avoid exploiting the investigators.
The judges found that discussions between Sarkozy and his attorney indicated that they knew that judicial investigators at the time were wiretapping their conversations on their official phones – the two judges mentioned “listening.”
Sarkozy argued that he never stepped in to help Azibert, who never got the job and retired in 2014.
Investigating judges consider that once a deal is offered, it constitutes a criminal offense even if the promise has not been fulfilled.
“This will be a closely watched trial,” Natasha Butler of Al Jazeera said in a report from Paris. Nicolas Sarkozy is still someone in the public eye here in France. He enjoys widespread support among many in the conservative party. He tried to run in the last presidential election.
These high-profile issues feed this feeling among many French that many politicians in France are simply abusing their positions of power. Nicolas Sarkozy, for his part, has always said that these allegations are untrue and that they are politically motivated. “
Legal proceedings against Sarkozy were dropped in the Bettencourt case.
Sarkozy referred to judicial harassment and accused judges of violating the attorney-client privilege by wiretapping phone calls.
“I don’t want things that I haven’t done against me to be held. He told BFM news radio earlier this month, the French should know … that I am not a corrupt person.
He said he was facing trial in a “combative” mood.
This is the first time that a former president faces trial for corruption in France.
Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in 2011 of misuse of public money, breach of trust, and conflicts of interest and sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence for acts during his tenure as mayor of Paris before he held the presidency from 1995 to 2007..
Illicit financing claims
Sarkozy’s name has appeared for years in several other judicial investigations.
Allegations, which include illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, have overshadowed Sarkozy’s bid for the 2017 presidential election.
After his conservative party failed to select him as a candidate, he withdrew from active politics.
Sarkozy has remained the most popular figure among the French right in recent years. His memoir, The Time of Storms, published this summer, has been a bestseller for weeks.
Sarkozy has been handed initial charges, including “illegal campaign financing” in the Libyan investigation, which began in 2013 and prompted the wiretapping of his phones.
Earlier this month, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Taqi al-Din retracted his previous statements that he had delivered bags from Libya containing 5 million euros ($ 5.9 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Jean.
Instead, he told newscasters BFM and Paris-Match magazine that “there is no Libyan funding”.
Sarkozy said the truth “is finally emerging”.
Meanwhile, the former president will face another trial in the spring of 2021 along with 13 other people accused of illegally financing his 2012 presidential campaign.
He accused his conservative party and a company called Bygmalion of using a private billing system to hide unauthorized excess spending.
They are suspected of spending 42.8 million euros ($ 50.7 million), nearly double the authorized maximum, to fund the campaign that ended with victory for socialist rival François Hollande.