Paris – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty on Thursday of illegal financing of the electoral campaign for his candidacy for re-election in 2012. Sarkozy was not present at the Paris court for the announcement of the verdict.
He is accused of having spent nearly double the maximum legal amount of 22.5 million euros ($ 27.5 million) for the re-election candidacy he lost to socialist Francois Hollande.
The court said Sarkozy “knew” the legal limit was at stake and “willfully” failed to oversee the additional spending.
Sarkozy, President of France from 2007 to 2012, vigorously denied the wrongdoing. He can appeal the decision, but if the conviction is upheld, he faces jail time.
The verdict on Thursday came seven months laterin a separate bribery and influence peddling case.
Prosecutors requested a six-month jail sentence for the campaign finance charges, as well as a six-month suspended sentence and a fine of 3,750 euros ($ 4,354).
Sarkozy, 66, was convicted on March 1 of corruption and influence peddling. He was sentenced to one year in prison and two years in prison suspended in this case, but has remained at large pending an appeal of the charges.
In the campaign finance case, prosecutors concluded that Sarkozy knew weeks before the 2012 election that his spending – which is strictly limited under French law – was approaching the legal maximum. They accused him of ignoring two notes from his accountants warning about the money problem.
Prosecutors argued that Sarkozy is “solely responsible for financing his campaign” and that he has chosen to exceed the limit by organizing numerous rallies, including giants.
During his hearing, Sarkozy told the court that the extra money did not go into his campaign, but rather helped to enrich other people. He denied any “fraudulent intent”. He also insisted that he didn’t take care of the day-to-day organization as he had a team to do it and therefore couldn’t be blamed for the amount of spending.
In addition to the former president, 13 other people were tried, including members of his conservative party The Republicans, accountants and officials of the communications group responsible for organizing the rallies, Bygmalion. They face charges of counterfeiting, breach of trust, fraud and complicity in illegal campaign financing.
Some admitted wrongdoing and detailed the false bill system that was intended to cover overspending.
Prosecutors have called for most suspended prison sentences and up to a year in prison for the Bygmalion co-founder.
Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017, but still plays a role behind the scenes. French media have reported that he is involved in the process of selecting a conservative candidate ahead of the French presidential election next year.