Sarkozy, back on the bench for a cause that divided the French right | International

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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, this Thursday, in Paris.THOMAS COEX / AFP

The judgment by the call Bygmalion case, postponed in March due to one of the defense lawyers being sick with covid-19, finally started this Thursday without Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the 14 defendants, being present in the courtroom. The former president of France – now retired from politics, but still influential in the conservative field – was already sentenced last winter to three years in prison for corruption, although he appealed that sentence. This new trial now places on the bench, in addition to Sarkozy, collaborators from his campaign team, those responsible for the events and public relations company Bygmalion, and leaders of his former party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP ), later renamed its current name, Los Republicanos (LR). Sarkozy, whose questioning is scheduled for the week of June 14, faces a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.

The Bygmalion case, which is expected to last until June 22, exploded when the financial practices of Sarkozy's second and last presidential campaign were revealed, in which he faced the socialist François Hollande, who finally won at the polls. To overcome the adverse polls, the then president – weighed down by the economic crisis and a personality that irritated many French people – decided to give everything, physically and financially. And he did it in a big way.

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Instead of the 15 planned rallies, he organized 44. And they weren't regular rallies. The stages were gigantic, like the screens. The dressing rooms included luxury buffets, showers, even a butler. Trains came from all over the country with militants to fill the pavilions. Costs soared and Sarkozy ended up spending € 42.8 million, almost double the authorized ceiling. To disguise this excessive and illegal spending, a trick was devised. The UMP – that is, the party, rather than the campaign – assumed much of the campaign spending. But he had to justify it. That is why the Bygmalion company issued false invoices for organizing events that never existed.

The question now is to find out what Sarkozy knew about all that excess. The former president relies on the fact that, in the heat of an extremely intense campaign, he did not have time to focus on accounting matters, and, in this and other court cases, he denounces cruelty against him by the magistrates. The investigating judge maintains that Sarkozy, by his position, should have ensured that his collaborators acted in accordance with the law and that he benefited from an extraordinary injection of money, although in the end he lost to the socialist Hollande.

When the case was uncovered in 2014, a multi-gang fight broke out between politicians who aspired to lead the right wing. The president of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, was a friend of the Bygmalion bosses, which at first diverted suspicions towards him. Former Prime Minister François Fillon, who aspired to replace Sarkozy, was on the prowl and in 2020 was sentenced to five years in prison for his wife's fictitious jobs.

Therefore, an internal conflict was opened in the French right from which, on the eve of another presidential election next year, it still does not recover. Now, almost 10 years after Sarkozy's campaign against Hollande in 2012, The Republicans, the party heir to the UMP, are divided, without a program and without a leader, and risk being absorbed by the center-right that supports Macron and by the extreme right of Marine Le Pen. Since then, they have not had one of their own in the Elysee Palace.

Corruption

In addition, last March a court convicted Sarkozy of corruption after trying to extract information from a prosecutor in exchange for helping him obtain a position in Monaco. And he is charged, without a trial date, for the alleged illegal financing of his first presidential campaign, in 2017, with money from Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. Any dream of one day returning to power is moving away, but he maintains an ascendant in good part of the right, and cultivates a good relationship with the current president, Emmanuel Macron.

Sarkozy is not the first French head of state to face a criminal trial. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was sentenced to two years in prison for embezzlement of public funds and breach of trust when he was mayor of Paris, although he did not serve the sentence.


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