The prosecution began on Thursday to hand down its closing arguments in the appeal trial on the excessive spending of Nicolas Sarkozy's lost presidential campaign in 2012.
In this case, known as "Bygmalion", named after the company that organised the right-wing candidate's campaign rallies, 14 individuals, including Nicolas Sarkozy, were sentenced at first instance in September 2021 to sentences of up to three and a half years in prison, part of which was suspended. Three of them have not appealed, so their convictions are final.
Unlike his co-defendants, the former president (2007-2012) is not accused of the system of false invoices devised to hide the explosion in his campaign expenses (nearly 43 million euros, while the legal ceiling was 22.5 million).
Convicted at first instance
But at the end of the first trial, he was sentenced in September 2021 to one year in prison for exceeding this legal ceiling, a sentence higher than what the prosecution had requested at the time, which had requested one year in prison, six months of which were suspended. However, the criminal court had requested that this sentence be adjusted directly, at home under electronic monitoring.
In his ruling, he had pointed out that the former tenant of the Élysée Palace had "continued to organise meetings" for elections, "asking for one meeting per day", even though he "had been warned in writing" of the risk of legal exceedance, and then of the actual exceedance.
'Fables' and 'lies'
On Friday, the day of his interrogation, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was not present when his co-defendants were heard by the Court of Appeal, - as in the first trial - vigorously contested "any criminal responsibility", denouncing "fables" and "lies".
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With a great deal of action, he denied that he had "ever been aware of a fraud, had ever asked for a fraud or even benefited from a fraud". He also disputed that his campaign had "gone off the rails," as others had said on the stand.
Sarkozy also accused people close to Copé - his chief of staff Jérôme Lavrilleux, who was also deputy director of the campaign team, and the Bygmalion communications agency - of enriching themselves.
During previous interrogations, the former director general of Bygmalion, Guy Alves, considered that Nicolas Sarkozy had been the "sole beneficiary" of the system of false invoices.
This view was shared by Jérôme Lavrilleux, the only official of the UMP (now Les Républicains) who admitted to having covered up the double billing system set up to prevent Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign accounts from exceeding the legal amount authorised, who said that everything had been done "for the benefit of the candidate".
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After three weeks of hearings, during which the ten defendants who had appealed their convictions were questioned, the lawyer for the party Les Républicains (LR, which succeeded the UMP), which has filed a civil suit, pleaded in the morning.
"The deliberate choice of headlong rush"
At the beginning of the afternoon, Bruno Revel, one of the two representatives of the Public Prosecutor's Office, recalled at the beginning of his closing arguments the "constants of this case": "Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign spending limit has been exceeded, this overrun has been accepted, this overrun has been concealed."
According to the Advocate General, it was not decided "from the beginning" to "free ourselves from the rules" on election expenses, but "at some point" they were "thrown away" and "the deliberate choice of rushing forward" was made.
One case among many
This case is in addition to other legal troubles for Nicolas Sarkozy: he was sentenced last May in the wiretapping case to three years in prison, one of which is suspended, a decision against which he has appealed to the Court of Cassation.
The former head of state will appear in court in 2025 on suspicion of Libyan financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. He was also indicted at the beginning of October in connection with the retraction of the intermediary Ziad Takieddine.