Sarkozy to Face Trial in Influence-Peddling Case in France
PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has been ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and influence-peddling in connection with accusations that he tried to illegally obtain confidential information from a magistrate several years ago, a French judicial official said Thursday.
It was another legal blow for Mr. Sarkozy, who served from 2007 to 2012 and has stayed in the background of French politics even amid the recurring headlines of his judicial entanglements. He has already been ordered to stand trial in another case, involving the financing of his failed campaign for re-election in 2012.
Mr. Sarkozy, one of his lawyers and a former magistrate have all been ordered to stand trial on charges of active corruption and influence-peddling, the judicial official said.
The national financial prosecutor’s office had requested in October that they stand trial, but the magistrates investigating the case made their decision on the request only this week. In France, complex criminal cases are handled by special magistrates with broad investigative powers.
Lawyers for Mr. Sarkozy said in a statement that they would appeal the decision and expressed surprise that the magistrates made the ruling while the defense’s dismissal motion was pending.
The statement said that Mr. Sarkozy would “calmly” wait for the results of that motion and that “he has no doubt, once again, that truth will triumph in the end.”
Under French law, a person convicted of active corruption can face up to 10 years in prison and a 1 million euro fine, or about $1.2 million, while influence peddling can be punished by up to five years in prison and a €500,000 fine, or about $615,000.
The announcement came just a week after Mr. Sarkozy, 63, was placed under formal investigation in another case, involving suspicions that his 2007 election campaign had received illegal financial support from the Libyan government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
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Although the cases are separate, the accusations of influence-peddling emerged from the Libya investigation, which began in 2013 and had led investigators to place wiretaps on phones belonging to Mr. Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog.
Through the wiretaps, the authorities say, investigators discovered in 2014 that Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog had discussed ways of obtaining confidential information about another case involving the former president, which was being handled by France’s top appeals court.
Prosecutors say Mr. Sarkozy sought to illegally obtain information from Gilbert Azibert, then a magistrate at the court, including by promising to use his influence to secure a job for Mr. Azibert in Monaco. The job never materialized.
Mr. Sarkozy has faced multiple corruption inquiries since he left office in 2012. None have led to convictions, but the developments in the Libya and influence-peddling cases signal that Mr. Sarkozy’s legal woes are rising to a climax.
Mr. Sarkozy, who has argued repeatedly that the investigations against him are politically motivated, was infuriated that investigators had wiretapped conversations with his lawyer, but the appellate court ruled in 2016 that the taps were legal.
The former president has already been ordered to stand trial on charges of illegally financing his failed 2012 bid for re-election, in which prosecutors say he knowingly let his campaign surpass the strict spending limits set by French law. Mr. Sarkozy has appealed that order.
Follow Aurelien Breeden on Twitter @aurelienbrd.