Former French President Sarkozy Convicted of Breaking Campaign Finance Laws

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PARIS—Former French President

Nicolas Sarkozy

was found guilty Thursday of breaking campaign finance laws during his failed 2012 re-election bid, compounding his legal woes.

A Paris court convicted Mr. Sarkozy on charges of illegally financing an election campaign, handing him a one-year prison sentence to be served at home wearing an electronic bracelet. France places a legal limit of 22.5 million euros, equivalent to $26.1 million, on campaign spending. In a trial this spring, prosecutors alleged Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign spent more than €40 million, using phony receipts in an attempt to mask the spending.

Mr. Sarkozy, who wasn’t present in court on Thursday, has said he wasn’t aware the cost of his campaign exceeded the legal spending limit. A lawyer for Mr. Sarkozy said he would appeal immediately.

Under French law, Mr. Sarkozy isn’t required to serve any sentence until the appeals process is exhausted.

Mr. Sarkozy’s conviction is a new blemish on the legacy of a former head of state whose conservative Les Républicains party is rooted in law-and-order politics. He remains an influential figure in the French political establishment and has friendly relations with President

Emmanuel Macron.

Jérôme Lavrilleux, Nicolas Sarkozy’s deputy campaign chief, said Thursday he was unlikely to appeal a three-year sentence.



Photo:

alain jocard/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Earlier this year, Mr. Sarkozy was convicted in a separate case on charges of influence-peddling and corruption. Mr. Sarkozy was sentenced to one year under house arrest and a two-year suspended prison sentence for offering in 2014 to help a magistrate land a plum position in the principality of Monaco in exchange for confidential information about an inquiry into the finances of his 2007 presidential campaign. Mr. Sarkozy has appealed the ruling.

Prosecutors have also brought preliminary charges of campaign-finance violations and corruption against Mr. Sarkozy for allegedly accepting millions of euros in cash from the regime of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to finance his 2007 campaign. Mr. Sarkozy denies taking money from Gadhafi.

In the case decided Thursday, prosecutors allege that Bygmalion, a media company that helped organize Mr. Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign, issued fake bills to allow his campaign to get around the spending limits set by French law.

Alongside Mr. Sarkozy, 13 co-defendants were on trial, including former campaign officials, Bygmalion executives and accountants. All were found guilty. Mr. Sarkozy’s deputy campaign chief Jérôme Lavrilleux was sentenced to three years in prison, one of which was suspended and the others to be served at home with an electronic bracelet, for aiding and abetting illegal campaign financing. He told reporters that he was unlikely to appeal. “I’ve had enough,” he said.

Thierry Herzog, a lawyer for Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke to the media on Thursday.



Photo:

stephane mahe/Reuters

Called the Bygmalion Affair by French media, the allegations burst into the open in 2014. During a TV interview that year, Mr. Lavrilleux appeared close to tears and said the media company had billed part of the campaign’s costs to Mr. Sarkozy’s party rather than the campaign.

The cost of the campaign quickly grew out of control, Mr. Lavrilleux said. “I did not have the courage to say, ‘Stop! We are running straight into a wall,’” Mr. Lavrilleux said during the interview.

Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for Bygmalion, has said the company had no choice but to issue fake bills to get paid for its work in organizing campaign meetings. The bills said the services were provided to Mr. Sarkozy’s party to organize meetings unrelated to the campaign, he added. Some of these party meetings were real, others weren’t, he said.

Mr. Maisonneuve didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Socialist candidate François Hollande ultimately won that election, succeeding Mr. Sarkozy, who was France’s president from 2007 to 2012.

Write to Nick Kostov at Nick.Kostov@wsj.com

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