Defiant ex-French president Sarkozy tells bribery trial he is the victim of lies

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) arrives for a hearing of his trial on corruption charges in Paris, on Dec 7, 2020.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy (centre) arrives for a hearing of his trial on corruption charges in Paris, on Dec 7, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - Former president Nicolas Sarkozy told a French court on Monday (Dec 7) that he had never engaged in corruption and that he was the victim of lies.

Sarkozy is on trial for charges of trying to bribe a judge and influence-peddling, among several charges that threaten to cast an ignominious pall over his decades-long political career.

Taking to the witness stand for the first time, a defiant Sarkozy accused prosecutors of conducting a witch-hunt, using excessive means to snoop on his affairs and withholding evidence.

Dressed in a black suit and wearing a blue face mask, Sarkozy told the court: "Permit me to say solemnly ... that I have never committed the slightest act of corruption. Never. Never abused my influence, alleged or real."

Prosecutors say Sarkozy, who led France from 2007-2012, offered to secure a plum job in Monaco for judge Gilbert Azibert in return for confidential information about an inquiry into accusations that he had accepted illegal payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

This came to light, they say, while they were wiretapping conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog after Sarkozy left office in relation to an investigation into alleged Libyan financing of that 2007 campaign.

"Azibert owes me nothing," Sarkozy said. "I've never lied. But there have been lies (by others) throughout this affair," he added.

"What right do they have to drag me through the mud like this for six years. Is there no rule of law."

Herzog and Azibert are both on trial with Sarkozy, charged with corruption and influence-peddling. They are also accused of "violating professional secrecy".

All three face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines if convicted.