Sarkozy To Stand Trial For Alleged Campaign Finance Violation

Feb 7, 2017
Originally published on February 7, 2017 11:17 am

A French judge has ordered former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to stand trial over allegations that he violated France's campaign finance laws during his failed 2012 bid for re-election.

Sarkozy was eliminated from this year's presidential election in November when Francois Fillon defeated him in the first round of the primary for France's conservative party, as The Guardian reported.

Sarkozy faces trial over the alleged falsifying of account records by his party in order to hide more than $20 million in overspending. In France, presidential campaigns have a limit of 22.5 million euros, or $24 million, for expenses.

He has denied any awareness of wrongdoing.

The case is known as the "Bygmalion affair," named after the communications company that issued the invoices for Sarkozy's campaign, Jake Cigainero reports for NPR. He says 13 other people also face trial for fraud and complicity.

The BBC reports that the scandal "centers on claims that Mr. Sarkozy's party, then known as the UMP, connived with a friendly [public relations] company to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign."

The broadcaster adds:

"France sets limits on campaign spending, and it is alleged the firm Bygmalion invoiced Mr. Sarkozy's party rather than the campaign, allowing the UMP to spend almost double the amount permitted.

"Employees at Bygmalion have admitted knowledge of the ruse and several UMP members already face charges.The investigation into Mr Sarkozy centers on whether the ex-leader was aware of the alleged fraud."

The Guardian recounted some of the details of the 2012 campaign, which were originally reported by the investigative journalist Violette Lazard in a book.

The newspaper reported:

"At one rally of 10,000 supporters in Nice, [Lazard] claimed that luxury backstage canap├ęs and champagne were provided for VIP supporters of the teetotal Sarkozy.

"Scrambled eggs and spaghetti were infused with so much luxury truffle that one party worker worried the intense smell would waft out over the audience. 'I was very embarrassed, wondering if the smell would reach the hall and what image that would create,' the unnamed party worker told Lazard. The backstage drinks and nibbles cost [more than $50] a head.

"Luxurious backstage dressing rooms were hastily put up for Sarkozy at conference centers and halls. At one rally ... builders put up 'not just a dressing room but an apartment,' according to a party official who was investigated in the case. He described 'four rooms with an office, a reception room, toilets, a bathroom and a sort of antechamber where visitors could wait.' Before Sarkozy's speech, 70,000 people stood chanting his name, but he did not hear it because the dressing room was entirely soundproofed at high cost, it is claimed.

...

"Sarkozy's team have repeatedly said they never demanded or asked for luxurious fittings. Sarkozy has always stressed he did not know anything about the spending or accounts, leaving that to his team."

Sarkozy is the latest French politician accused of financial misconduct. Just last week, authorities announced an investigation into alleged misuse of funds by Fillon.

As The Two-Way has noted:

"[Fillon] is accused of putting his wife, Penelope, on his parliamentary office payroll and paying her about $900,000 of taxpayer money over a 15-year period, according to the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine. Fillon also reportedly hired two of his children.

Hiring one's spouse is not illegal, reports NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, but 'there's little evidence she actually worked.' "

Fillon is widely expected to face either far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen or centrist Emmanuel Macron in the rounds of voting in April and May.

Le Pen has also been accused of misusing funds. As we reported, she has been asked to pay back more than $320,000 to the European Parliament because two of her aides in Brussels were actually working for her campaign in France. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.