Nicolas Sarkozy attacks ‘shockingly unjust’ corruption conviction

Days after his conviction for corruption and influence peddling, Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will take the battle to clear his name to the European court of human rights if he does not win on appeal.

The former French president described a Paris court’s verdict on Monday and the three-year prison sentence he was given (two years suspended) as “profoundly and shockingly unjust”.

Speaking to Le Figaro, Sarkozy, who is involved in several legal investigations but has always insisted he has committed no wrongdoing, said he was “indignant but determined”.

“I’ve received many messages of support from people in France and abroad who say they are appalled by what is happening. I know we are in for a long battle. I’ve appealed against the judgment and maybe the case will end up in the European court of human rights. It would pain me to seek to have my own country condemned but I’m ready to do so because this is the price of democracy,” he said.

In the interview, the rightwing politician, who has previously complained that judges are pursuing a political campaign against him, stopped short of directly attacking the courts, saying this would further damage “our democracy”. However, he added: “The question of the bias of certain judges can be asked.”

On Monday, Sarkozy, 66, and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, 65, were convicted of trying to bribe a senior judge, Gilbert Azibert, 74, for information related to one of a number of legal investigations involving the former president. Herzog and Azibert were also given a three-year jail sentence, with two years suspended, and have also appealed against their convictions.

The appeal is likely to take years and involve a new trial, but in any case Sarkozy will not to go to prison as the one-year jail term can be spent under partial house confinement or by wearing an electronic bracelet.

The case, known as the “Bismuth affair”, was based on wire taps of “burner” (disposable) phones used by Sarkozy – who employed the false name Paul Bismuth – to speak to Herzog. The former president’s supporters argue the secretly recorded conversations should not have been used as evidence in court.

“Here’s an unprecedented case of corruption: not a centime changed hands, nobody obtained any benefit, there was no victim and no disruption to public order. They condemned me by attributing a so-called intention to commit a crime,” Sarkozy, who led France between 2007 and 2017, said.

“I remind you, to be convicted, in a state of law, there has to be proof and in this case there is none. If we were in Mr Putin’s Russia, the human rights defenders would be yelling that this is serious.”

On 17 March, Sarkozy will be back in court, represented by Herzog, on another case based on an investigation into the accounts of his unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign.

The centre-right Les Républicains party, struggling to find a credible candidate for next year’s presidential elections, had been hoping Sarkozy would be cleared on Monday, opening the way for another presidential bid.

However, Sarkozytold Le Figaro he had turned the page on “active politics” more for personal reasons than because of his legal travails.

“Cleared on not, it changes nothing politically for me. When I said I’d turned the page, it wasn’t that I was waiting for a legal verdict, it was down to another, more personal reflection, linked to me and my family, which led me to withdraw,” he said.

“I would not have come back even if I’d been given the not guilty verdict that was my right. I said I would not be a candidate at the presidential election, and I stick to that.”

Sarkozy is to give another interview on prime-time television on Wednesday evening.

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