French court rejects graft trial delay for ex-president Sarkozy

French court rejects graft trial delay for ex-president Sarkozy
French court rejects graft trial delay for ex-president Sarkozy

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy leaves after an interruption in his trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling, at Paris courthouse, France November 23, 2020. — Reuters pic

PARIS, Nov 27 — A Paris court yesterday rejected a request to postpone the corruption trial for former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and two other defendants, ordering them to appear in person for hearings that will begin Monday.

Sarkozy became France's first modern head of state to appear in the dock this week, on suspicions he promised a plush job to a judge in exchange for inside information on a campaign finance inquiry.

Lawyers for the judge, 73-year-old Gilbert Azibert, sought a postponement for medical reasons when the trial opened Monday, saying he had health problems that made public appearances risky during the Covid-19 outbreak.

But a medical exam ordered by the court determined Azibert could indeed appear in court as long as strict social distancing measures were respected, and the trial will resume next Monday.

“In any event and, unfortunately, no matter the risk, we will continue the proceedings starting Monday,” Azibert's lawyer, Dominique Allegrini, told journalists after the hearing.

Sarkozy, wearing a black suit and tie, made no statement as he entered the courtroom.

Only one other French president, Sarkozy's political mentor Jacques Chirac, has faced trial after leaving office — but because of ill health, Chirac never appeared in court for his conviction in a fake-jobs scandal.

Prosecutors say Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, tried to bribe Azibert with a job in Monaco, if he would provide information on an inquiry into claims Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

Wiretaps of conversations between Herzog and Sarkozy — who used a secret phone bought under the alias of “Paul Bismuth” — purportedly reveal the two men making plans to get Azibert to help sway the inquiry.

Sarkozy has denied the accusations, denouncing this month “a scandal that will go down in history.”

Charged with bribery and influence peddling, Sarkozy risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of €1million (RM4.86 million).

The real Paul Bismuth, a former schoolmate of Herzog's who now lives in Israel, told AFP this week that he would not be a civil plaintiff in the case, as he had previously considered.

“I don't see what I would get out of it,” he said. — AFP

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