The corruption process against Nicolas Sarkozy begins in France

The corruption trial against Nicolas Sarkozy begins when he becomes the first French President to appear in court accused of crimes he committed while in office

  • Sarkozy, 65, appeared in the Paris courthouse on Monday wearing a face mask
  • Prosecutors claim he offered a judge a favor to influence a separate investigation
  • His mentor Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 but never appeared in court

France's former leader Nicolas Sarkozy was tried today on corruption charges and became the first French president to stand on the dock as a defendant.

Sarkozy, 65, appeared today wearing a face mask at the Paris courthouse and was surrounded by lawyers and bodyguards as he prepared to challenge the bribery allegations he denied.

While Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac was convicted in a fake jobs scandal for his time as mayor of Paris, he never appeared in court for health reasons – which made Sarkozy the first president to take a stand.

The investigation into Sarkozy, who served from 2007 to 2012 and was defeated in a comeback bid in 2016, also resulted in him becoming the first ex-president to be taken into police custody for questioning.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy [center] arrives today with his lawyer Jacqueline Laffont [left] on the opening day of his bribery trial in Paris

Prosecutors claim Sarkozy offered to secure Judge Gilbert Azibert a plum job in Monaco in order to get information about a separate investigation from Sarkozy.

That investigation examined claims that Sarkozy had accepted illegal payments from Loreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy is charged with bribery and indulgence in peddling and risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of one million euros.

Part of the evidence comes from wiretapping of phone calls between Sarkozy and his longtime attorney Thierry Herzog, which were approved as part of a third investigation into suspected Libyan funding of the 2007 campaign.

That investigation is still ongoing, although Sarkozy paused this month when his main suspect withdrew a key claim that he delivered millions of euros in cash from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Sarkozy has fought furiously to have the bribery case dropped and denounced what he calls a "scandal that will go down in history".

"I'm not a crook," Sarkozy told French television this month.

Sarkozy and Herzog argued that the wiretapping violated the client-lawyer privilege, but the courts denied their complaints.

Investigators found that Sarkozy used a pseudonym – Paul Bismuth – to buy a phone for secret calls with his lawyer.

The couple discussed contacting Judge Gilbert Azibert, who, according to prosecutors, was charged with obtaining information to influence the Bettencourt investigation in Sarkozy's favor.

In return, Sarkozy would allegedly use his contacts to try to secure the post in Monaco for Azibert, who is also on trial.

Sarkozy pictured was President of France from 2007 to 2012. He later launched a comeback offer, but was defeated in a 2016 party election

Sarkozy pictured was President of France from 2007 to 2012. He later launched a comeback offer, but was defeated in a 2016 party election

But later, Sarkozy appeared to withdraw from the Monaco plan – a sign, prosecutors said, that the two men had been informed of the wiretapping.

"All of this is nothing more than fragments of sentences taken out of context," Duke's lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins told France Info Radio on Monday, calling them "conversations between very old friends".

Herzog faces the same charges as Sarkozy and one more charge of breaching professional secrecy. The process is expected to last until December 10th.

Sarkozy, a trained attorney, says the judiciary has waged a vengeance for trying to curtail judges' powers and accusing them of being soft.

He and 13 other people will be on trial again in March 2021 for alleged campaign funding violations during his unsuccessful re-election offer in 2012.

Prosecutors accused Sarkozy's team of using a fake billing scheme organized by PR firm Bygmalion to spend nearly € 43 million on the lavish run.

Chirac, who died last year, was convicted of misuse of public funds in 2011 when he was Mayor of Paris and given a two-year suspended sentence.

He was the first head of state in the country convicted since Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Petain in 1945.