Nicolas Sarkozy on his arrival at the court, this Monday in Paris.ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP
No one is above the law.
This is the main message that the French justice sends when condemning Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Republic between 2007 and 2012. According to the court, Sarkozy participated in a “corruption pact” together with his lawyer and close friend, Thierry Herzog, and a general counsel for the Court of Appeal, Gilbert Azibert.
In exchange for eliciting information from Azibert about a case involving Sarkozy, Herzog promised to help the attorney general obtain a position in the Principality of Monaco.
Investigators discovered the plan by listening to the conversations between Sarkozy and Herzog on a secret mobile phone, expressly hired to escape the scrutiny of justice.
The sentence is actionable and is only one stage in the long battle that the former French president faces with judges and prosecutors.
But it has an exemplary effect.
First, because it represents a forceful response from the judiciary to repeated intimidation by Sarkozy, convinced that he is the victim of a conspiracy against him.
Second, the judgment itself makes it clear that the fact that the convicted person is a former head of state, who, while exercising his functions, was "the guarantor of the independence of justice" is of "particular gravity".
And third, the court makes it clear that in a democracy no one escapes the weight of the law.
It is not the first conviction of a head of state in France under the Fifth Republic, the presidential regime founded in 1958 by General de Gaulle.
In 2011, Jacques Chirac was sentenced to two years in prison for embezzlement of public funds and breach of trust when he was mayor of Paris, which he did not comply with due to his health and age.
In both cases, the events occurred before or after the convicts occupied the presidential seat.
But the French Constitution provides that the head of state can be tried, once he has left office, for events that occurred during the mandate that are not related to the exercise of his functions.
France has a problem when two of the last four heads of state have suffered convictions.
One explanation may be the intoxication of power and a system, that of the Fifth Republic, that weakens the counterpowers, endows the president with an almost monarchical aura and facilitates conduct like Sarkozy's.
But this case also shows that the French Republic has the mechanisms to prosecute these behaviors up to the highest magistracy of the State.
As the court indicates, there is nothing more serious than the guarantor of judicial independence who violates the law, and no one but him should set an example when complying with it.
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