They call him ‘Le President Bling-Bling’ thanks to the Rolex watches, Ray-Ban sunglasses and gold medallions that he’d ostentatiously sport while promenading first lady Carla Bruni around the world’s luxury hotspots.
And last night Nicolas Sarkozy was awaiting an unwelcome addition to that famous jewellery collection.
The 66-year-old former French premier is poised to have a state-of-the art electronic band fitted around his ankle so he can serve a 12-month prison sentence from the confines of his home.
A journey that had propelled this little Napoleon to the gilded magnificence of the Elysee Palace ended in a small criminal court in Paris, where the former statesman with a bulging celebrity contact book was convicted of ‘corruption and influence-peddling’ following an extraordinary three-week trial.
They call him ‘Le President Bling-Bling’ thanks to the Rolex watches, Ray-Ban sunglasses and gold medallions that he’d ostentatiously sport while promenading first lady Carla Bruni (right with Nicolas Sarkozy) around the world’s luxury hotspots
The 66-year-old former French premier (pictured arriving in court today) is poised to have a state-of-the art electronic band fitted around his ankle so he can serve a 12-month prison sentence from the confines of his home
In a tale of deception so extravagant it might have been lifted from a Victor Hugo novel, Sarkozy and a crony called Thierry Herzog, who worked as his lawyer, were found guilty of plotting to bribe a magistrate to hand over inside information about a 2014 police inquiry into the former president’s campaign finances.
Using ‘burner’ mobile telephones, registered to fake names, the duo were recorded by detectives offering the lawman, Gilbert Azibert, a prestigious job in the tax haven of Monaco in return for details of the probe, which was looking into illegal alleged payments to Sarkozy by Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and an elderly L’Oreal heiress called Liliane Bettencourt.
All three men were convicted. Sarkozy was sentenced to three years behind bars, with two suspended.
Also found guilty with him were his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, 65, (left) and Gilbert Azibert (right), the 73-year-old retired judge who was said to have been bribed – with both having denied wrongdoing
Assuming judges agree to allow him to serve the tariff under home arrest at a forthcoming sentencing hearing, he and Miss Bruni will retreat to the home they share with nine-year-old daughter Giulia in the Villa Montmorency, a gated block of 19th-century mansions popular with Russian oligarchs and ageing French showbusiness personalities in Paris’s ultra-exclusive 16th arrondissement.
For a couple who for years devoted themselves to globe-trotting, and rarely seemed happier than when rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, it marks quite the fall. Yet this is just one of several serious criminal cases that cloud Sarkozy’s horizon.
On March 17, he will return to court to face allegations of fraudulently overspending in his failed 2012 re-election bid. He’s also been charged over allegations of receiving tens of millions of euros from Gaddafi before the 2007 election campaign that propelled him into office. In January, prosecutors opened another probe into alleged influence-peddling over his advisory activities in Russia. And there have also been allegations that the former president took back-handers to help Qatar win the 2022 World Cup.
Carla Bruni was seen out on the streets of Paris only minutes after her husband Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty of corruption
It’s quite the rap sheet. And while Sarkozy denies all wrong-doing, accusing Left-wing judges of hounding him – and his lawyers last night vowed to appeal the ‘unjustified and unwarranted’ verdict – legal woes seem likely to dominate his supposed retirement for many years to come.
Indeed, such is the tortured speed at which the wheels of French justice grind, it’s possible he may find himself in and out of court for the rest of his life.
Little wonder that former premiere dame Carla Bruni, who at 53 is 13 years her husband’s junior, is spitting feathers.
She wasn’t in court yesterday, but in a recent interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Vine, she angrily insisted that prosecutors were guilty of ‘disgusting lies’ and had indicted her husband ‘with no reason, with no proof’.
And while Sarkozy (pictured, arriving at court this morning) denies all wrong-doing, accusing Left-wing judges of hounding him – and his lawyers last night vowed to appeal the ‘unjustified and unwarranted’ verdict – legal woes seem likely to dominate his supposed retirement for many years to come
This certainly wasn’t what the former supermodel and pop singer signed up for back in 2007, when her whirlwind romance with the twice-divorced new president stunned the world.
Back then, 52-year-old Sarko was a snappily dressed political sensation who had been propelled to office with 53 per cent of the vote, by an electorate seemingly eager for free-market reforms after years of economic stagnation.
Bruni was smitten. They slept together on their second date, she later confessed, and were engaged within weeks. Eighty days after meeting, they married in secret, purportedly so the Queen would allow them to share a room at Windsor Castle, during what turned into a triumphant state visit to the UK.
Yet as the months rolled past, and the heady excitement of victory evaporated, the wheels quickly began to fall off.
Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, had spent his entire adult life in politics. As the financial crisis unfolded after 2008, it became clear that behind the soap opera of his private life was a man almost wholly unsuited to the demands of high office. For he proved to be vain, short-tempered and absurdly extravagant, with a politically toxic sense of entitlement.
This certainly wasn’t what the former supermodel and pop singer Carla Bruni (right with Sarkozy in 2016) signed up for back in 2007, when her whirlwind romance with the twice-divorced new president stunned the world
Having spent the night he was elected at Le Fouquet’s, one of the most expensive Paris restaurants, along with rich showbusiness chums, one of his first steps on taking office was to secure himself a 172 per cent pay rise.
He then began to be photographed with Miss Bruni on yachts and exotic beaches, wearing designer clothes and extravagant jewellery.
During his first months in office, as policy pledges went unfulfilled, he was photographed strolling along an Egyptian beach in swimming trunks, with a gold chain around his neck and a bikini-clad Carla on his arm.
Shortly afterwards, he ordered a new presidential jet: an Airbus A330 kitted out to his private specifications at a cost of £215 million. It then emerged that at home, he was keeping 121 cars parked under the Elysee Palace. His private staff were spending £10,000 a day on food and drink, serving £160-a-bottle Crozes Hermitage to guests.
On a State visit to Mexico, a year after taking office, he and Carla decided to adjourn for a weekend of ‘holiday time’ in a £3,100-a-night beach resort. The cost to the taxpayer, including security, was £45,000.
Little wonder that by the time the 2012 election came around, with the economy stalling and his reputation for probity in decline, Sarkozy had the lowest popularity ratings of any post-war French president
Despite, or perhaps because of the globe-trotting lifestyle, Sarkozy also began to gain a reputation as a toxic prima donna.
At a 2008 agriculture show in Paris, the president said ‘get lost, dumbass’ to a man who refused to shake his hand. On another occasion during his first year in office, a Left-wing protester held up a sign reading ‘Get lost, you sad idiot’ as Sarkozy walked past. The president had him arrested and prosecuted. He was fined £25.
Unable to enact domestic reforms, Sarkozy turned his attention to the international stage. But here he also quickly started to become a figure of fun, thanks (perhaps unfairly) to his diminutive height.
At 5ft 5ins, he is an inch shorter than Napoleon. Carla, meanwhile, was 5ft 10ins. And while she gave him the pet name ‘My little chou chou’, the difference in stature became a running joke among foreign leaders (David Cameron was once caught making an undiplomatic gag about him being a ‘dwarf’). Such slights are hugely embarrassing for a man of Sarkozy’s soaring vanity. When he and his wife appeared together, she began to wear flat shoes, while he was kitted out in Cuban heels.
Then there was the ongoing soap opera surrounding his private life. His second wife Cecilia accused him of having the husbandly skills of a gnat, the fidelity of a footballer and the grace of a garden gnome, dubbing the president a ‘philanderer who loves nobody except himself.’
Then there was the ongoing soap opera surrounding his private life. His second wife Cecilia (left with Sarkozy in 2006) accused him of having the husbandly skills of a gnat, the fidelity of a footballer and the grace of a garden gnome, dubbing the president a ‘philanderer who loves nobody except himself’
Little wonder that by the time the 2012 election came around, with the economy stalling and his reputation for probity in decline, Sarkozy had the lowest popularity ratings of any post-war French president. In fact, he was poised to become the first president since the early 1980s to fail to secure re-election.
This pressing issue proved to be at the heart of his downfall. In a bid to avoid a crushing defeat, he raised tens of millions of euros in funding, often from questionable sources.
A PR firm called Bygmalion is now accused of using false accounting to conceal spending of at least £33 million during the campaign. The official limit is £18.5 million.
In earlier times, such matters might have been swept under the carpet. But France is finally starting to catch up with its sensationally corrupt ruling class, having prosecuted both Sarkozy’s former prime minister Francois Fillon (for illegally funnelling close to £1 million of public money to his wife) and his political mentor Jacques Chirac (who gave political allies fake jobs at City Hall in Paris).
After suffering a humiliating defeat to tubby socialist Francois Hollande, Sarkozy left office promising ‘you won’t hear from me any more.’
But days later, his Paris home was raided by Fraud Squad officers. France has been hearing from its former president on a very regular basis ever since, though increasingly this convicted crook’s public utterances are taking place in court.
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