By Shweta Desai
PARIS (AA) – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will appeal against his criminal conviction in a corruption and influence-peddling case for which he was handed a three-year prison sentence, his lawyer has announced.
However, the verdict does not mark the end of the legal woes for the influential politician who faces trial in two more corruption cases this month.
Describing the verdict as "extremely severe" and "totally unfounded and unjustified", lawyer Jacqueline Laffont announced Sarkozy would appeal against the decision "to prove his innocence."
The prison sentence against the former head of state, the first to be delivered during the 5th Republic period in France, stunned the political class, who rallied in Sarkozy's favor.
Hours after he was held guilty, Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, an elected leader of the ruling party, expressed his "friendly support."
"Everyone knows the affection, the respect I have for Nicolas Sarkozy, who was a great President of the Republic," he said. Politicians from the right-wing also offered stead-fast support, terming the sentence as "disproportionate" and "judicial harassment."
While eventually he may not serve any prison time in the infamous wiretapping case, Sarkozy is likely to return to the court later this month in 2 separate trials over alleged overspending during the 2012 presidential election campaign and receiving illegal financing from the regime of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 election campaign.
– Cover-up of 2012 campaign expenses
The Paris prosecutor's office will open a trial from March 17 to April 15 in the so-called "Bygmalion case" for exceeding the legal threshold for electoral expenses set at €22.5 million during his last presidential campaign. The Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Council had rejected his prior appeal to dismiss the case. If convicted, he faces one year in prison and a fine of €3,750.
The prosecution accuses Sarkozy of an alleged cover-up with a PR firm Bygmalion and producing false invoices of €18.5 million, which were billed to his political party, formerly known as UMP, rather than the election campaign.
Sarkozy has denied partaking in any financial irregularities during the failed campaign, which saw big-spending in the form of champagne and truffles served to VIP supporters, Hermes furniture, luxurious dressing rooms, toilets in the backstage reception rooms and thousands of French flags for the attendants to wave.
– Libya corruption case
Sarkozy, who served as France's president between 2007-2012, is also facing corruption charges in the Libya case. He allegedly received millions of euros from associates close to Gaddafi's regime to finance his first election bid.
In 2007, the same year Sarkozy won the presidency, the Libyan dictator marked his 5-day official visit to France, the first in 35 years. Amidst widespread condemnation, he hosted the Arab leader at the Elysee Palace, signing deals to sell 21 Airbus aircraft and nuclear cooperation.
The Gaddafi-Sarkozy affair wasn't all rosy. After France joined the UK and the US in launching military action against Libya in 2011, Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam threatened to reveal the details of financing his electoral campaign and demanded Sarkozy to return the money to Libya.
Reportedly, Libya's former chief of external intelligence Moussa Koussa, disclosed that Sarkozy's campaign had received up to €50 million from Libya. Such allegations were further fortified, following French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine's 2016 interview to news site Mediapart that he had delivered suitcases from Libya containing €5 million in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Gueant.
Takieddine, a key witness in the backtracked last November, said there was no Libyan hand in the funding campaign. Sarkozy said he would ask authorities to drop the charges against him. However, in Oct. 2020, prosecutors placed him under formal investigation over new accusations for membership in "criminal association" in addition to corruption charges.
Sarkozy was also placed under preliminary investigation in a third case this January related to lobbying with a Russian company Reso-Garantia. He is alleged to have received €500,000 from the Russian company in early 2020.