Bygmalion, Bismuth, Libyan financing: where are the affairs regarding Nicolas Sarkozy?

The appeal trial of Nicolas Sarkozy and nine other defendants in the Bygmalion case, on the alleged illegal financing of the lost 2012 presidential campaign, opens on Wednesday November 8 in Paris

Bygmalion, Bismuth, Libyan financing: where are the affairs regarding Nicolas Sarkozy?

The appeal trial of Nicolas Sarkozy and nine other defendants in the Bygmalion case, on the alleged illegal financing of the lost 2012 presidential campaign, opens on Wednesday November 8 in Paris. The former head of state appealed his sentence to one year of imprisonment for exceeding the electoral spending limit, pronounced in September 2021 by the criminal court.

This is not the only legal meeting for Mr. Sarkozy, who was indicted on Friday October 6 for “concealment of witness tampering” and “participation in a criminal association with a view to committing the offense of "judgment fraud in an organized gang", as part of the investigation into the retraction of the statements of businessman Ziad Takieddine. The former president also learned in August that he would be tried in 2025 in connection with suspicions of Libyan financing of his 2007 campaign. In recent years, the former right-wing strongman has been cited in various capacities in several political-financial affairs.

Wiretapping affair (Azibert-Bismuth)

Convicted at first instance and on appeal

The Paris Court of Appeal confirmed, in a decision rendered on Wednesday May 17, the conviction of the former President of the Republic to three years in prison, including one year, for corruption and influence peddling. The appeals court also issued a three-year ban on civil rights, making him ineligible. He was sentenced to the same sentence in 2021. As soon as the decision was announced, Mr. Sarkozy's counsel announced that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation.

Justice accuses him of having tried to obtain from a magistrate at the Court of Cassation, Gilbert Azibert, secret information from another case concerning him (the Bettencourt file). In exchange, Nicolas Sarkozy would have promised to intervene in favor of the magistrate so that he obtains a prestigious position in Monaco. The accusation is based on wiretaps of conversations between Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, on an unofficial line – two prepaid telephones purchased under the name “Paul Bismuth”.

Accounts of the 2012 campaign (Bygmalion)

Convicted at first instance, appeal trial in progress

Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to one year in prison on September 30, 2021 by the Paris Criminal Court for exceeding the electoral spending limit. The former president appeared from May 20 to June 22, 2021 on suspicion of illegal financing of his campaign in 2012, but only appeared in court for a single day of hearings.

Alongside Mr. Sarkozy, the thirteen other defendants were all found guilty of “complicity in the illegal financing of an electoral campaign.” Bastien Millot, co-president of the Bygmalion group and friend of Jean-François Copé, was sentenced to three years in prison, including 18 months suspended, and a fine of 100,000 euros. Franck Attal, Sébastien Borivent and Guy Alvès, three former executives of Bygmalion and its subsidiary Event

The investigation and trial at first instance revealed the system of false invoices and false agreements linking the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and the Bygmalion communications agency, responsible for organizing the numerous meetings of the Mr. Sarkozy's blitz campaign in 2012, in order to hide the massive exceeding of the legal ceiling on electoral expenses authorized by law. The former president was, in fact, informed as early as March 7, 2012, by a warning note, of the risk of exceeding the authorized ceiling, which he ignored and chose, on the contrary, to increase the number of his meetings. “By boosting his campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy did not respect the essential value of equality between the candidates,” two prosecutors estimated during the requisitions.

Mr. Sarkozy immediately appealed the decision, as did nine other defendants, who also appeared from November 8 and until December 8 before the Paris Court of Appeal.

Suspicions of Libyan financing in 2007

Trial at the beginning of 2025

Nicolas Sarkozy is suspected of having financed part of his 2007 presidential campaign with funds from the regime of the former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

At the end of ten years of investigation, two financial magistrates signed his referral to the criminal court, where he will be tried for "concealment of embezzlement of public funds", "passive corruption", "illegal financing of electoral campaign" and "association criminals with a view to committing an offense punishable by ten years' imprisonment.

The hearing will be held “between January 6, 2025 and April 10, 2025” before the 32nd chamber of the Paris criminal court, according to the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF).

The referral order also targets twelve other people, including three former ministers – Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close to Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as Eric Woerth, ex-treasurer of the suspect presidential campaign – and two businessmen: the Franco-Lebanese Ziad Takieddine, on the run to Lebanon, and the Franco-Algerian Alexandre Djouhri, suspected of having served as intermediaries.

“There has never been, near or far, neither in cash nor in transfer, the slightest Libyan cent to finance my campaign,” Nicolas Sarkozy defended during his hearing before the judges in October 2020. On May 10, 2023, the National Financial Prosecutor's Office requested the referral of the former head of state to the criminal court, estimating that, "if it seems clear that all of the Libyan funds initially intended [for the campaign] were not "was not mobilized for this purpose", "opaque circuits of circulation of Libyan funds [have] resulted, ultimately, in cash disbursements in a temporality and chronology compatible with an occult use".

Ziad Takieddine's retraction

My in exam

In November 2020, BFM-TV and Paris Match published statements from Ziad Takieddine: the Lebanese intermediary returns to his statements made to judges between 2013 and 2020 according to which he gave Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as his relatives, 5 million euros of Libyan money, in order to finance his 2007 presidential campaign. On April 6, 2021, Mediapart revealed that this change would be “[linked] to financial promises coming from intermediaries close to the Sarkozy networks [Mr. Takieddine being in a precarious situation following the seizure of his assets], but also to a climate of threats maintained around him. The National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) opens a preliminary investigation for "witness tampering", then requests the opening of a judicial investigation. In this case, nine other people have already been indicted, including a celebrity press figure, Michèle Marchand (known as “Mimi”).

Friday, October 6, the former head of state was indicted for “concealment of witness tampering” and “participation in a criminal association with a view to committing the offense of fraud in judgment in an organized gang.” He was also placed under the status of assisted witness for “participation in a criminal association with a view to committing the offense of active corruption of foreign judicial personnel” in Lebanon.

The Karachi affair

Assisted witness

In the run-up to the 1995 elections, the government of Edouard Balladur, of which Nicolas Sarkozy was budget minister, allegedly granted huge commissions on arms sales to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Part of the sums would have returned through intermediaries to finance the presidential campaign of Mr. Balladur, of which Mr. Sarkozy was spokesperson.

In February 2014, the judges responsible for the financial aspect of the Karachi affair considered it necessary to hear Nicolas Sarkozy as an assisted witness. He was interviewed in May 2017 to explain the approval he gave to these controversial contracts.

In June 2020, six convictions were handed down by the criminal court in the financial aspect of the investigation, with an appeal trial scheduled for spring 2024, while in 2021 François Léotard and Edouard Balladur were acquitted by the Court of justice of the Republic.

On the sidelines of the Karachi trial, the former president was also targeted by an investigation for “violation of the secrecy of the investigation” due to a 2011 Elysée press release reporting on the progress of the legal proceedings , in which the executive is not supposed to get involved. In 2023, the Paris Court of Appeal authorized three magistrates to investigate the matter.

Russian affair (Reso-Garantia)

Under preliminary investigation

Justice is questioning a transfer of 500,000 euros received at the beginning of 2020 by Nicolas Sarkozy, as part of a consulting contract with the Russian insurance group Reso-Garantia. According to Mediapart, which revealed the case at the beginning of 2021, “justice is seeking to verify whether the former head of state only acted as a consultant, which would be perfectly legal, or whether he would have engaged in potentially criminal lobbying activities on behalf of Russian oligarchs.”

A preliminary investigation for “influence peddling” was opened against Nicolas Sarkozy by the PNF in the summer of 2020. It is still ongoing.

Bernard Tapie and the arbitration of Crédit Lyonnais

Out of cause (immunity)

Nicolas Sarkozy was president in 2008 when the state agreed, during an arbitration, to pay 404 million euros to businessman Bernard Tapie, in compensation for the loss he allegedly suffered during the sale of 'Adidas in 1993.

The arbitration, tainted by manipulation, was annulled by the courts in 2015, and Bernard Tapie ordered to reimburse. Christine Lagarde, who had agreed to arbitration as Minister of the Economy, was convicted in 2016 for “negligence” by the Court of Justice of the Republic.

In this case, Nicolas Sarkozy refused to come and testify, hiding behind his presidential immunity. He was therefore never implicated, even if the judges long wondered about his proximity to Bernard Tapie, and the role he could have played in the arbitration.

Elysée polls

Out of cause (immunity)

Under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the Elysée is suspected of having awarded several contracts in an irregular manner for the supply of surveys contracted from the companies of two advisers to the president, Patrick Buisson and Pierre Giacometti.

In 2019, justice decided to send six people to criminal custody, including two close to Nicolas Sarkozy. The former secretary general of the Elysée Claude Guéant was sentenced in January 2022 to eight months in prison for favoritism, and was released on parole a month later.

Mr. Sarkozy could not be targeted by the judges, because the affair took place within the framework of his mandate. It was in the name of this presidential immunity that he refused to attend the judge’s summons in 2016.

Bettencourt affair

Out of cause (dismissal)

After being interviewed several times, placed under the status of assisted witness, then indicted for abuse of weakness, influence peddling and receiving stolen goods, Nicolas Sarkozy benefited from a dismissal of charges in 2013. The investigators did not managed to gather sufficient evidence showing that he would have taken advantage of the state of weakness of the extremely wealthy Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal group.

Campaign Account Penalties

Out of cause (dismissal)

The investigation opened for breach of trust targeted the penalties for exceeding the spending ceiling for Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 campaign. He should have paid them himself; however, they were settled by the UMP. Placed under the status of assisted witness, the former president finally benefited from a dismissal of the case in September 2015, like the other protagonists.