The former president was convicted of corruption and influence peddling. His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and former magistrate Gilbert Azibert received the same sentence.
First conviction for Nicolas Sarkozy. The former President of the Republic was sentenced on Monday, March 1, 2021 by the 32nd Chamber of the Paris Judicial Court to three years in prison, two of which were suspended in the so-called wiretapping case. His historical lawyer, Thierry Herzog and former magistrate Gilbert Azibert, were also sentenced. The former for corruption and breach of professional secrecy, the latter for concealment of a breach of professional secrecy. Thierry Herzog is also banned from practicing law for five years.
“This trial is not an institutional revenge, nor that of the magistracy, and even less that of the PNF. No one is seeking revenge on a former President of the Republic,” said Jean-François Bohnert, prosecutor of the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), during the trial that opened on November 23, 2020. The day before, Nicolas Sarkozy had stated that he “had never committed the slightest act of corruption” and intended to be “washed of this infamy”.
2007 Campaign Funding
We spoke at length about this case that has been in the news since April 2013 when two magistrates, Serge Tournaire and René Grouman, opened a judicial investigation for “corruption, influence peddling, forgery and use of forgeries, abuse of corporate assets, money laundering, complicity and concealment of these crimes. “They are investigating suspicions of illicit financing of Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007 by a foreign power: Libya. Nicolas Sarkozy was indicted on March 21, 2018, after more than 25 hours in police custody, for “illegal financing of the electoral campaign and placed under judicial supervision.
On September 3, 2013, the two judges decided to tap the former president’s phone. But also that of former Interior Ministers Brice Hortefeux and Claude Guéant. It seems that the fishing was good. The judges surprised in particular a conversation between Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer about the seized agendas, which led the brand new National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) to open, on February 26, 2014, a judicial inquiry for “influence peddling and violation of the secrecy of the investigation”.
This new case is being investigated by Judges Patricia Simon and Claire Thépaut. The question is whether the former president and his lawyer sought the discreet support of Gilbert Azibert, General Counsel at the Cour de Cassation, to find out the progress of the proceedings concerning the former president’s agendas seized in the “abuse of weakness” section of the Bettencourt case. In return for what? A promotion to the Council of State of Monaco.
Telephone interceptions therefore began in September 2013. Three months later, the press reveals that Brice Hortefeux is being listened to. Thierry Herzog understands that his famous client is also probably “connected”. To thwart the eavesdropping, he goes to an operator in Nice and buys two TOC (telephone out of control). They are two cell phones acquired under a false identity, Paul Bismuth. A well-known trick in the world of organized crime.
On February 22, Nicolas Sarkozy is at his wife’s house, Carla Bruni, in Cap Nègre. He has a conversation with his lawyer. Suddenly, the two men decide not to talk to each other on their official phone but to call back “in ten minutes”. The police understand that the two men will continue the conversation using other telephones. The two OCD men are quickly identified and the conversation is recorded. The following ones as well.
On March 4, searches are carried out in Paris and in the provinces at the homes and business premises of Thierry Herzog and Gilbert Azibert.
The separation of powers
The affair, which became known on March 7, immediately triggered an outcry that shook the judicial institution. “It’s a state scandal,” thundered Herzog. “The conversations between a lawyer and his client cannot be listened to, recorded and transcribed to provide a basis for the opening of an investigation (…) This is a monumental violation of the rights of the defense. »
Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawyer admits that he bought two OCTs to speak more freely with his client because, he says, “I thought that there were wild tapping, we were ready to do anything to destabilize Sarkozy (…) I will demonstrate, when the time comes, that this is a political case fabricated from scratch. »
“The bastards of Bordeaux
What do these taps contain? On January 29th, Thierry Herzog talks to Nicolas Sarkozy and talks about Gilbert Azibert: “He worked, eh! And above all, what he did is the thing inside, what… ” Understand: ”inside the Court of Cassation”. Indeed, Gilbert Azibert is assigned to the civil division while the case of the agendas is handled by the criminal division. This is why he will be getting closer to his colleague, Patrick Assoust. The latter informed Gilbert Azibert by email on January 19: “the B file” will be heard on March 11. Two days later, he consulted the file on the Cour de cassation’s intranet site. Meetings took place between the two senior judges.
On January 30, Thierry Herzog is rather optimistic. He says: “It’s going to make a lot of work for these bastards from Bordeaux” in reference to the judges who indicted his client.
On February 1, Nicolas Sarkozy claims to have been informed that his offices could be searched. On February 5, the former president confirms that he can help Gilbert Azibert obtain a position in Monaco. “I will help him,” Sarkozy said on the phone. Call him today and say I’ll take care of it because I’m going to Monaco and I’ll see the prince…”
February 24: “You can tell him that I’m going to approach the Minister of State tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. “February 25: “OK. You can tell him that I… at noon, I will make the approach and then I will call you to tell you what’s going on. »
The next day, February 26th, the two men talk to each other, this time on their usual telephones. Change of tone and strategy. Nicolas Sarkozy announces that he did see the Secretary of State of Monaco but that he did not intervene in favor of Gilbert Azibert. He will say the same thing on the phone in the name of Paul Bismuth. The police understand that the lawyer and his client learned, on February 25, that they were also being listened to on the clandestine line. This means that they have a mole within the state apparatus. This is why, according to the police, both interlocutors have “adapted” their speech. And perhaps their actions in refraining, for the former president, from talking about Gilbert Azibert to the Monegasque minister.
On June 30, 2014, Thierry Herzog, Gilbert Azibert and Patrick Sassoust were arrested and taken into custody. Only the first two will be presented to the judges and charged with “passive corruption, passive influence peddling, concealment of a breach of professional secrecy” for the magistrate. And for “active corruption, active trading in influence, violation and concealment of professional secrecy” for the lawyer. Heavy stuff.
The next day, Nicolas Sarkozy presented himself at the PJ in Nanterre. He will come out fifteen hours later after passing through the office of the “two ladies”. For having promised an advantage to a person in charge of public authority, the offence of active corruption is indeed constituted and held against him. For having tried to influence the procedure of the Court of Cassation, the offence of active influence peddling is retained against the former president.
Nicolas Sarkozy is thus condemned in first instance. He decided to appeal as well as his co-defendants. This judgment is historic, more than nine years after Jacques Chirac’s two-year suspended prison sentence in the case of the fictitious jobs of the city of Paris. But the former president is not yet out of the woods with justice. In two weeks’ time, on March 17, 2021, he will have to appear in the Bygmalion affair, concerning the costs of his 2012 presidential campaign.