Last week, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption and was handed a three-year jail sentence. Despite the ruling, it remains unlikely that Sarkozy will serve any time in prison. Following the case, Sarkozy’s lawyer announced that he will appeal the three-year sentence, two years of which have been suspended. Still, the ruling is likely to hinder any future presidential aspirations, even if the appeal is successful. Many thought Sarkozy was planning to run as a centre-right candidate in next year’s presidential elections.
On March 1st, in Paris’s Palais de Justice, Judge Christine Mée found Mr. Sarkozy to be guilty of a charge of corruption dating back to 2014, in which Sarkozy attempted to bribe a judge, offering a prestigious job in return for information on a separate case. The attempted bribery took place two years after Sarkozy’s only term as president, which ran from 2007-2012.
The damning verdict left the courtroom silent. Mée accused Sarkozy, his lawyer, and a senior magistrate of forming a “corruption pact,” adding that Sarkozy “knew what he was doing” and that there was “serious and concurring” evidence of his wrongdoing. Until now, Sarkozy has denied the allegations, going so far as to say that they were “an insult to my intelligence.” He is yet to make any statement following the ruling.
Sarkozy’s post-presidential life has been ruled by scandal. He had already escaped conviction in the 2013 “Bettencourt” corruption investigation, one of many criminal investigations that would come to define the years after his presidency. Sarkozy has frequently stated his innocence throughout these investigations, claiming to be the victim of a “leftist judicial witch hunt.” Many of his counterparts shared this view, as did his conservative supporters, who eagerly awaited an announcement regarding his candidacy for the 2022 elections. This week’s ruling is sure to change perceptions; Sarkozy has turned from victim to criminal.
Things could still worsen for the disgraced ex-president. He is due in court next month in relation to the “Bygmalion affair,” where he is accused of over-spending during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign.
This was a shocking ruling. The guilty verdict and custodial sentence were unexpected, despite the accusations of corruption and malpractice that have dogged Sarkozy since he left the Élysée palace. Not only has the case provided a shocking exposé, through revealing the presence of corruption within the highest echelons of French public life, it also has very material implications for the upcoming presidential elections.
The case has left France’s centre-right in a state of disarray. Many of the country’s conservatives’ hopes rested on Sarkozy’s return, with other centre-right candidates trailing in the early polls. Sarkozy’s absence from the campaign is expected to produce a two-horse race for the presidency next year. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are – as it currently stands – the only two credible candidates for next year’s elections. Often a multi-party affair, these elections will likely mirror a more Americanized, two-party style of politics. With Macron facing criticism for mishandling numerous crises during his time in office, including the ongoing health crisis, a Marine Le Pen presidency is certainly possible. Should that be the case, we may well look back at this court ruling as a watershed moment: one which let France’s far-right move from the fringe to the centre, and, eventually, into power.
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