Another dose of Sarko? EuroTrump
9 September, 2016
President Hollande stands low just now in opinion polls. Nicolas Sarkozy’s problem is that he first needs to win a primary in November. He is no longer the champion of the right, but rather the challenger: His former foreign minister, Alain Juppé, 71, leads in the primary race. And a former prime minister, François Fillon, who is also running, is crucifying his ex-boss for comparing himself to de Gaulle. (“Can you imagine de Gaulle under investigation?” he lashed out recently, in a reference to long-running charges against Mr. Sarkozy of illegal campaign financing.)
So why should France need Mr. Sarkozy in 2017 if it did not want him in 2012? Because, as he explains in his new book, this is not the same country. The situation created by the recent wave of terrorist attacks requires a strong, experienced man at the helm, this argument goes. “I felt I had the strength to lead this battle at such a tormented moment in our history,” he wrote. Some saw in the title “All for France” a reference to a book written by Jacques Chirac for his 1995 campaign, “La France pour tous” (“France for All”). By reversing the proposition, Mr. Sarkozy hopes that his new patriotic spirit will prevail
If this book has any meaning, perhaps its utility is that the time has come for clarity. I wanted to make the effort to go and get, in my heart, my truth on my mistakes as on my successes. I mean to say, without artifice, what I really believe in for the future. The only verdict that really important to me is yours, the readers. In any political horizon that I may seek I mean less to seduce than to encourage understanding of the complexity of situations and the sequence of events.
[June 27 2015 Sarkozy: IMSI, Bettencourt, Bygmalion, “Kazakh-gate” ]
Keeping track of all those cases can be difficult. So here is a rundown of four of the most current and high-profile investigations involving Nicolas Sarkozy, with ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 of the potential to damage him.
1. The IMSI-catcher — 8/10
The case: In 2013, investigating judge Serge Tournaire was looking into allegations that members of Sarkozy’s entourage solicited funds from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to finance their boss’s 2007 presidential campaign. As part of that probe he ordered police to tap the mobile phones of Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.
Suspicious of surveillance, the two men took to communicating instead over throwaway phones that had been purchased under a false name, Herzog told Le Monde in an interview last year.
The police caught on to this scheme, too. Using a scanning device known as an IMSI-catcher, they picked up the signal emanating from Sarkozy’s residence in western Paris and put new taps on both phones, which delivered the most problematic evidence yet revealed in public about the former president.
In excerpts of recorded conversations between Sarkozy and Herzog, which were originally published in the Mediapart newspaper, the two men allegedly discuss the planned seizure of evidence in yet another investigation, involving heiress Liliane Bettencourt.
They refer to a “friend” who is informed and can intercede to stop the evidence being seized. According to Mediapart and Le Monde, Herzog mentions that the man wants a posting in the principality of Monaco and Sarkozy says that he can help.
Judge Tournaire, arguing that the offer to help amounted to an attempt to grant a favor in exchange for information about a secret investigation, placed Sarkozy under formal investigation for violating the secrecy of legal proceedings, corruption and influence-peddling.
In French criminal law, a formal investigation means there is “serious or consistent” evidence of implication in a crime. It brings a suspect one step closer to trial. However, some are dropped without going to court.
What Sarkozy says: He has denied all wrongdoing. In a TV interview last July, Sarkozy pointed out that the friend discussed in the taped conversation, a magistrate named Gilbert Azibert, never got his job in Monaco. He refers to a another taped conversation that was never leaked to the press in which he allegedly withdrew his offer of help to Azibert.
Sarkozy also rejected the notion that he had used an intermediary to influence the Bettencourt investigation. He said that Azibert had exerted no influence because the court authorized the seizure of evidence — an appointment diary — against his wishes. “Where is there influence-peddling?” Sarkozy asked.
Still, Sarkozy’s lawyers appealed to have the tapes suppressed as evidence — an appeal that a court rejected after eight months of deliberation. Sarkozy’s legal team has lodged another appeal motion with the high Court of Cassation, but the investigation is ongoing while the motion considered.
If it is rejected, Sarkozy could be indicted on charges related to the accusations in the formal investigation. A state-appointed prosecutor would then try the case.
2. The Bettencourt affair — 1/10
The case: In 2010, L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s accountant, Claire Thibout, told Mediapart that conservative politicians including Sarkozy collected envelopes stuffed with cash at the billionaire’s house. She alleged that Eric Woerth, treasurer of Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, had been given an envelope containing €150,000 in cash shortly before the vote.
If proven, this would have amounted to a violation of French campaign finance law, which limits contributions to €7,500 for political parties and €4,500 for individuals.
In 2013, two judges in Bordeaux placed Sarkozy under formal investigation for trying to take advantage of a vulnerable person to take money from her. They had by that time stopped trying to prove he used the money to finance his campaign. A few months later Sarkozy’s name was removed altogether from the list of suspects.
Woerth, however, was charged with influence-peddling and illegal political financing. The judges also charged several people in Bettencourt’s entourage, including her “confidante,” François-Marie Banier, and her accountant, Patrice de Maistre, with fraud, taking advantage of a vulnerable person and money laundering.
In May 2015, a Bordeaux court handed down jail sentences for Banier and De Maistre but acquitted Woerth. The president of the court said that while there was a “strong suspicion” that Woerth had taken advantage of Bettencourt’s weakness to take money from her, evidence was lacking to prove it.
What Sarkozy says: Sarkozy maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. In a Facebook post after he was removed from the list of suspects, he denounced people who had questioned his probity during his 2007 presidential campaign.
Woerth, who sweated out years of investigation, is now a senior official in Sarkozy’s party, Les Républicains.
While the case is officially over, it lives on as part of the IMSI-catcher investigation.
According to French media, investigating judges argued that in their secret conversations, Sarkozy and his lawyer were trying to curry favor with a magistrate so he would stop officials from seizing Sarkozy’s appointment diary as evidence in the Bettencourt investigation (the diary was ultimately seized).
While Sarkozy cannot be re-investigated for the Bettencourt allegations, any trial on the newer accusations of influence-peddling would delve into the circumstances of conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer. That, in turn, could dig up the freshly buried Bettencourt investigation, which took place under his presidency.
3. The Bygmalion affair — 4/10
The case: Judges have placed ten people under formal investigation for their alleged participation in a scheme to cover up campaign spending violations in Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign.
In France, the government sets a ceiling for how much money a campaign can spend in each of two rounds in the presidential election — €22.5 million for the second round in 2012.
Judges argue that Bygmalion, an events company that organized Sarkozy’s campaign rallies, used false invoices to underreport its spending. Then, using another set of invoices, it charged a much higher amount to the center-right UMP party for the same services. Witnesses cited in the French press claimed spending exceeded the legal limit by more than €15 million.
Former UMP chief Jean-François Copé stepped down from his post in the wake of the “Bygmalion” scandal.
What Sarkozy says: In a 2014 meeting with party members, Sarkozy told one who asked him about the Bygmalion affair: “There is a scheme, for sure. But the courts are taking care of it. Let me tell you one thing: The person most determined to make people who have done bad things pay is me!”
Sarkozy is not cited as a suspect in the formal investigation, although judges are trying to determine whether he knew of or encouraged the double-invoicing scheme.
So far, the investigation is ongoing. Here again, if the case is rumbling in the midst of the presidential campaign, Sarkozy could face embarrassing questions about the practices of his own party.
4. “Kazakh-gate” — 3/10
The case: Launched in 2012 by two Parisian judges, the investigation delves into the circumstances surrounding France’s 2010 sale of 45 Eurocopter helicopters to Kazakhstan in a deal worth about €2 billion, according to legal documents cited by Davet and Fabrice Lhomme in Le Monde.
The judges suspect that during a 2009 state visit to Kazakhstan, then-President Sarkozy was asked by President Nursultan Nazarbayev to help out three of his friends who were in legal trouble in Belgium, in exchange for the helicopter contract.
In March Jean-François Etienne des Rosaies, a former envoy under Sarkozy, was placed under formal investigation on suspicion that he received payment for pressuring a Belgian senator to adopt an amendment favorable to Nazarbayev’s three aides. Other close collaborators of Sarkozy are also named in the probe.
Sarkozy is not cited directly in the case. But a public trial of intermediaries allegedly paid by the Élysée to intervene on its behalf could prompt an unpleasant exploration of business practices under Sarkozy’s presidency.
What Sarkozy says: He has denied all wrongdoing.
[ June 22 Dominique Strauss-Kahn: live another day]
— DSK (@dstrausskahn) June 21, 2015
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will not testify in the conflict-of-interest trial of Groupe BPCE Executive Chairman Francois Perol. Sarkozy invoked his constitutional immunity as former head of state in refusing to appear as a witness. France’s central bank chief, Christian Noyer, is scheduled to testify Thursday, the court heard as the trial began Monday.
Perol, 51, who took over in 2009 at BPCE, is accused of violating a law prohibiting government officials from taking private-sector jobs in areas they oversaw. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros.
Perol was Sarkozy’s top economic adviser and deputy chief of staff from 2007 to early 2009, when the government propped up banks including customer-owned lenders Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne. The government encouraged the combination of these two lenders to create BPCE and stem losses at Natixis SA, their common investment-banking division.
[August 29 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn more popular than Carla-Bruni Sarkozy?]
Although those left in the running are not scandal-tainted like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, they lack his charisma and broad appeal. Most come across as unreconstructed Left-wingers who have failed to capitalise on Mr Sarkozy’s current unpopularity. Mr Sarkozy is seeing his own approval ratings slowly climb. He plans to strike a “father of the nation” pose after the timely birth of his child with third wife Carla-Bruni Sarkozy by the end of the year.