Former French president Sarkozy convicted of corruption, handed prison sentence

A French court found former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of trying to bribe a judge and influence peddling on Monday and sentenced him to three years in prison, a stunning fall from grace for a man who led France and strode the world stage for five years.

However, he may not spend any time in prison. Two years of the sentence were suspended, and the presiding judge said she would accept allowing him to be tagged with an electronic bracelet outside of prison for the remaining year.

Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, is the second head of state in modern-day France to be convicted of corruption. Prosecutors persuaded the judges that after leaving office, Sarkozy had offered to secure a plum job in Monaco for a judge in return for inside information about an inquiry into allegations that he had accepted illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

“He took advantage of his status and the relationships he had made,” presiding judge Christine Mee told the court.

Another judge will decide whether to permit Srakozy to wear a bracelet instead of being imprisoned.

Retired from politics but still influential among conservatives, Sarkozy has 10 days to appeal the ruling. He left the court without speaking.

He had denied any wrongdoing, saying he was the victim of a witch-hunt by financial prosecutors who used excessive means to snoop on his affairs.

Sarkozy burst onto the world stage as a reformer full of ideas who would break with France’s stagnant past on the domestic front and restore the birthplace of human rights to a place of prominence in international affairs.

In the flagship reform of his term, Sarkozy defied hundreds of thousands of strikers to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60. He earned himself the moniker of the Gallic Thatcher, undertaking market-driven reforms such as loosening the 35-hour work week and tweaking the tax system to encourage overtime.

Outside France, he brokered a ceasefire to the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, championed the 2011 military intervention in Libya and hosted high-profile G8 and G20 summits.

The only other president of the Fifth Republic to be convicted of by a court was Sarkozy’s predecessor, the late Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of corruption in 2011.

Prosecutors stumbled across Sarkozy’s attempts to obtain confidential information while they were wiretapping conversations he had with his lawyer Thierry Herzog after he left office.

Prosecutors at the time were investigating allegations of alleged Libyan financing of the same 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy and his centre-right party Les Republicains have for years said the investigations against the former president are politically motivated.

Later this month, Sarkozy is due in court on accusations of violating campaign financing rules during his failed 2012 re-election bid.

Prosecutors are still investigating claims that Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi provided Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign with millions of euros shipped to Paris in suitcases – allegations that Sarkozy denies.