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Sarkozy sentenced for illegal campaign spending

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy received his second sentence this year, this time on charges that his 2012 presidential campaign hid illegally excessive spending. In March, he was found guilty of corruption and influence peddling.

(CN) — Nicolas Sarkozy, embattled former president of France, was sentenced Thursday to a one-year term that likely will be served from home after he was found guilty of illegally financing his failed 2012 glitzy, American-style reelection campaign.

Thursday’s sentence comes seven months after Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption and influence peddling, a finding that made him the second French president since World War II to be convicted of a crime.

Sarkozy, 66, faces other trials and investigations but remains popular in France. He is reportedly involved in selecting a Republican candidate to run against President Emmanuel Macron in elections next April, and he routinely appears on French television to give his views on the election.

His latest sentence relates to what is known as the “Bygmalion affair,” named for the public relations company that organized Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign and allegedly covered up its extravagant costs with fake invoices.

Sarkozy and his close associates were accused of spending $50.7 million, which is nearly twice the maximum authorized. Despite the hefty spending, he lost to Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate. Prosecutors said he ran a high-tech “American-style” campaign best remembered by its packed stadiums.

During a five-week trial, Sarkozy claimed that he was not aware of his campaign’s overspending and did not have time to worry about such “accounting details” and campaign logistics while he ran the Élysée Palace. But prosecutors said he was well aware of his campaign’s illegal spending.

Sarkozy did not appear in court on Thursday for his sentencing. The judge said he could serve the sentence at home wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. Sarkozy’s lawyer said the former president will appeal.

In March, Sarkozy was given a three-year sentence, though two years were suspended and he was allowed to serve one year under electronic surveillance at home. He will now be serving two sentences at home.

In the corruption trial, Sarkozy and his lawyer were found guilty of trying to get a judge on France’s high appeals court to provide information about a separate probe into suspicions that Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential campaign received illegal payments from France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

In exchange for the information, Sarkozy allegedly promised to use his influence to get the judge a plum magistrate’s job in Monaco.

Sarkozy has denounced the cases against him and claimed the French judiciary wanted to convict him out of a vendetta. He accused the judiciary of disliking him because he tried to limit their powers when he was president and accused them of being soft on crime.

During a two-week trial in November 2020, Sarkozy became the first French head of state to take the stand during the Fifth Republic, a period that began in 1958 when France adopted a strong presidential system of government.

Sarkozy’s predecessor and mentor, the late Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011 for embezzling public funds during his time as the mayor of Paris by creating ghost jobs at city hall to fund his party. Chirac was tried in absentia due to his poor mental health. Chirac was the first head of state to be tried since Marshal Philippe Petain was found guilty of treason in 1945 at the end of World War II for collaborating with Nazi Germany.

Sarkozy served as president for one term between 2007 and 2012. In 2016, he staged an unsuccessful political comeback.

Since he left office in 2012, Sarkozy has been hounded by several judicial investigations.

He is fighting allegations that he took millions of dollars in cash for his political ambitions from former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. After taking office, Sarkozy invited Gadhafi to the Élysée Palace, sparking widespread protests.

In 2018, Sarkozy was charged with taking bribes in the Libyan case, concealing the embezzlement of Libyan public funds and illegal campaign financing.

Sarkozy denies the charges and he seeks to invoke head-of-state immunity on some of the counts against him.

His legal troubles deepened in January when prosecutors opened a new influence-peddling probe. Mediapart, a French news outlet, said the probe is looking at a $3.6 million payment Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia made to Sarkozy in 2019.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow Cain Burdeau on Twitter.

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