Bygmalion case: who was convicted and why?

Nearly twelve years after the 2012 presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced on appeal, Wednesday February 14, to one year in prison, including six months suspended for illegal campaign financing in the Bygmalion affair

Bygmalion case: who was convicted and why?

Nearly twelve years after the 2012 presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced on appeal, Wednesday February 14, to one year in prison, including six months suspended for illegal campaign financing in the Bygmalion affair. The guilt of the ten other personalities who appealed their convictions was confirmed, but their sentences were overall reduced.

The investigation and trial uncovered a vast system of false invoices involving officials from Bygmalion and its subsidiary Event.

What is the “Bygmalion Affair”?

Bygmalion is a communications agency which organized the meetings of candidate Sarkozy in 2012 as well as several conventions for the UMP, with its subsidiary Event

The UMP is accused of having organized a system of false invoices aimed at ensuring that Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign expenses for the 2012 presidential election remained below the ceiling authorized by law (22.5 million euros).

Part of the costs incurred by the right-wing candidate's campaign (notably for the meetings) was not paid by the Association for the Financing of Nicolas Sarkozy's Campaign, as should have been the case. Bygmalion, the company providing the campaign, instead invoiced them to the UMP, under the pretext of fictitious or overcharged “thematic conventions”. The principle allowed Mr. Sarkozy's campaign not to exceed the authorized amount of expenditure, while benefiting from services (the organization of meetings, in particular) unduly invoiced to the party.

The judicial investigation showed that the real price of the 44 meetings organized by the events agency Bygmalion had been drastically reduced, 80% of the invoices disappeared. In its first instance decision, the court established that the legal ceiling for campaign expenses had been exceeded by 16.2 million euros.

Who was sentenced to what?

The investigations resulted in the referral to court of fourteen people, all of whom were convicted at first instance in September 2021. Ten of them appealed and had their sentences reduced following the second trial, which ended is held at the end of 2023. Presenting its decision through its president, on February 14, 2024, the court explained that it wanted the defendants' sentences to all include a portion of prison time, except for the two former directors of Bygmalion who were admitted their guilt (Guy Alvès and Franck Attal).

The former President of the Republic, candidate for re-election in 2012, was prosecuted for "illegal financing of an electoral campaign", since he was criminally responsible, and the massive overspending was documented and established by the trial and investigation.

In his referral order, investigating judge Serge Tournaire considered that if the former president “unquestionably benefited from fraud which allowed him to have resources much greater than those authorized by law, the investigation did not not established that he had ordered them, nor that he had participated in them, nor even that he had been informed of them.”

But the prosecution considered that Mr. Sarkozy had let the expenditure slide, despite several clear warnings about the risks of overspending, and therefore "unquestionably" benefited from the fraud, which allowed him to have "much greater means" than this. permitted by law at the time.

At first instance, Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to one year in prison, the maximum sentence for “illegal campaign financing”. This sentence was reduced on appeal to one year in prison, including six months firm but adjustable to home detention under electronic surveillance. A sentence nevertheless heavier than the one-year suspended requisition. Following the decision of the court of appeal, the former president appealed against his conviction.

It was he who imposed Bygmalion on the UMP to ensure the party's communication. And he, above all, who would have proposed the fraudulent system, according to the deputy director of Event

At first instance, Jérôme Lavrilleux was sentenced to three years in prison, one of which was suspended for “breach of trust”, “complicity in fraud” and “complicity in illegal electoral campaign financing”. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to two years' imprisonment, of which eighteen months were suspended, with an ineligibility of five years.

According to Jérôme Lavrilleux, it was he who organized the system. Appointed director general of the UMP in 2008 after the departure of Nicolas Sarkozy for the Elysée, this person very close to the former head of state was nicknamed “the Eye of Moscow” or “the Eye of Sarkozy”.

His signature appears on the expense commitments which validated “convention fees” invoiced by Event

At first instance, he was sentenced to three years in prison, one of which was suspended. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to two years' imprisonment, including 18 months suspended, with five years of ineligibility.

Both financial director of the UMP and head of the finance department of the 2012 campaign, she is accused by Jérôme Lavrilleux and Bygmalion of having participated in the fraud as an “executor”. She had also signed spending commitments for fictitious party conventions, while denying her involvement in the fraud during the trial at first instance.

At first instance, Fabienne Liadzé was sentenced to three years in prison, including eighteen months suspended for “use of forgery” and “breach of trust”. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to two years, including 18 months suspended, with an adjustment for the six months.

Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign director was the "transmission belt" between the campaign's daily strategic meeting and the UMP, an integral part of the "driving team" of the fraud, according to the prosecution. He is accused of having participated in the makeup of the campaign accounts in order to conceal the exceeding of the legal spending limit. “All this was hidden from me,” he defended himself during the trial at first instance. I have no reason to know that the thermometer was broken and that people, behind my back, had decided to issue false invoices. »

At first instance, Guillaume Lambert was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, two of which were suspended, notably for “complicity in illegal financing of an electoral campaign”. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to two years in prison, 18 months of which were suspended, with five years of ineligibility.

Unlike three of his former close associates, the former founder and co-president of Bygmalion denied all of the charges against him during the trial at first instance. Mr. Millot indicated that he had “never heard of a ventilation system” nor “seen any invoices”, nor did he remember the numerous discussions held with his associates regarding the said false invoices.

At first instance, Bastien Millot was sentenced to three years in prison, including eighteen months suspended, with a fine of 100,000 euros, for "complicity in the use of forgery", "complicity in fraud" and "complicity in illegal electoral campaign financing. On the other hand, he was acquitted of the use of forgery. He did not appeal his criminal conviction, which is therefore final.

Boss of the Bygmalion events subsidiary, Franck Attal testified during the first trial about the incessant and ever more demanding pressures and demands to which he was subjected by Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign team. According to him, Bastien Millot told him “We have no choice. You continue the meetings. »

Mr. Attal defended himself by explaining that he had “no decision-making power”. “I only did my job, which is to organize meetings,” he pleaded. The investigation, however, showed that the latter agreed to remove from the accounts all initial invoicing documents for the meetings, in order to conceal their subsequent breakdown.

At first instance, Franck Attal was sentenced to two years in prison, including one year suspended, for “complicity in forgery, use of forgery, fraud” and “illegal financing of an electoral campaign”. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to one year in prison, suspended on appeal, with a ban on managing a business for five years.

Another co-founder of Bygmalion and former advisor to Jean-François Copé, he said he accepted fraud to be able to pay his subcontractors. “We explain to you that the only way you can get paid is if the money is paid by someone else. Or I say 'yes', and I become illegal; or I say 'no', and my company is dead and I take several subcontractors with me,” he defended himself during the trial at first instance.

At first instance, Guy Alvès was sentenced to two years in prison, one of which was suspended, for “complicity in forgery, use of forgery, fraud” and “illegal financing of an electoral campaign”. On appeal, the prosecution was more lenient, considering that the directors of Bygmalion had “reluctantly joined the fraudulent pact in order to be paid”. His sentence was reduced to eighteen months in prison, this time accompanied by a ban on running a business for five years.

Could Nicolas Sarkozy not know?

The president candidate had every chance of knowing the existence of these false invoices. Several elements point in this direction:

In its first instance decision, the criminal court found that Nicolas Sarkozy had had both “the conscience” and “the will” to exceed the electoral spending limit. He added: “Nicolas Sarkozy knew about the legal ceiling. This was not his first campaign. He had been warned of the risk of exceeding [by two notes written by the accountants]. »