There is long road ahead for Sarkozy to avoid time in prison and follow the example of France’s wartime leader Philippe Pétain, says Dr David Lees of the University of Warwick's Department of French Studies, after he was found guilty in corruption trial:
"Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has this afternoon been found guilty of corruption charges. Sarkozy, centre-right president between 2007 and 2012, had attempted, along with his lawyer, to bribe a judge for information relating to another separate investigation into allegations of financial irregularities in his 2007 election campaign. Sarkozy has been sentenced to three years in prison, two of which will be suspended. As Sarkozy has appealed, he will not begin his custodial sentence immediately but will wait on the outcome of the appeals process. Sarkozy then faces two further future trials, into his 2012 and 2007 election campaigns. Sarkozy has become the first French leader since Marshal Philippe Pétain to be found guilty in a court of law. Pétain held the office of Head of the French State for four years between 1940 and 1944, during which the French authorities deported 76,000 Jews, of whom only 2,500 returned from the Nazi death camps. Pétain was found guilty of treason in relation to his collaboration with the Nazi occupiers.
"Sarkozy is not the only former president to face allegations of corruption—Valéry Giscard d’Estaing saw his presidential term marred by allegations of accepting gifts from the dictator Jean-Jean-Bédel Bokassa, while Jacques Chirac was put on trial over allegations of corruption in absentia while he suffered from ill-health after he left office. Nonetheless, Sarkozy now represents the only president of the Fifth Republic to be sentenced to time in prison. Indeed, Sarkozy remains a deeply divisive figure in French politics. In 2016, he was beaten out of the race for the nomination as centre-right presidential candidate ahead of the 2017 presidential elections. In the end, Sarkozy’s former prime minister, François Fillon, went onto challenge for the presidency, coming third after his campaign was rocked by financial allegations against Fillon. Having failed to secure the nomination for the presidential race in 2017, Sarkozy has been in the political wilderness ever since, despite his best efforts to regain control of the centre-right Les Républicains party, reformed under Sarkozy after his loss to François Hollande in 2012. Given that today’s result marks the outcome of just one of the three trials for Sarkozy, his political future now looks very bleak indeed, as he fights to avoid following the same path as Pétain into time spent in prison."
1 March 2021
Tom Frew, Senior Press and Media Relations Manager – University of Warwick: