Sarkozy denies illegal campaign financing at second French trial

France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday denied being responsible for massive overspending on his failed 2012 re-election bid, in a second court appearance this year after his March conviction for corruption.

The 66-year-old rightwinger is on trial in Paris for illegal campaign financing — one of several cases stemming from a flurry of investigations into his affairs since he lost his presidential immunity.

In March, he became France’s first post-war president to be given a custodial sentence when judges gave him a three-year term, two years of which were suspended, for corruption and influence peddling over his alleged attempts to secure favours from a judge.

Sarkozy has appealed that conviction. 

On Tuesday, he made his first appearance at a second trial, which relates to the millions of euros in overspending on his attempt to win a second term in 2012.

Prosecutors say accountants had warned Sarkozy he was set to blow past the 22.5-million-euro ($26.7 million) spending cap. But he insisted on holding more events to try fend off his ultimately victorious Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

In the end, his campaign spending came to at least 42.8 million euros.

His Union for a Popular Movement party, since renamed the Republicans, picked up most of the tab.

— US-style rallies –

Sarkozy on Tuesday angrily denied causing the campaign to overheat.

“I spent 40 years in politics, it’s my life, I know how campaigns work,” he told the court, insisting. “Things did not get out of hand.”

He and 13 others are accused of setting up or benefiting from a fake billing scheme to cover the excess spending.

Unlike some of the defendants Sarkozy, who claims he was unaware of the scheme, is not charged with fraud, but with the lesser offence of illegal campaign financing.

If convicted, he risks up to a year in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros ($3,093).

The trial is set to run until June 22.

The case is known as the Bygmalion affair, after the name of the public relations firm hired to orchestrate a blitz of lavish US-style election rallies.

Bygmalion executives have admitted to using a system of fake invoices to mask the real cost of the events.

The investigation failed to prove that Sarkozy had any hand in the fraud but the prosecution argues that it was his choice to hold the “elaborate, extravagant rallies” that blew the budget.

– Other cases pending –

In March, he was convicted of corruption and influence peddling after being found guilty of plotting with his lawyer to obtain confidential information from a judge about an inquiry into his 2007 election campaign.

Even if he loses his appeal he is unlikely to spend time behind bars, with the court ruling he could serve his year-long term at home, wearing an electronic bracelet.

The conviction dealt a blow to the hopes of his supporters that he could stage another comeback after a first failed attempt in 2016.

In a television interview on March 3, he repeated that he had “turned the page” on his political career but made clear he would continue to anoint right-wing favourites.

Sarkozy is married to singer and former model Carla Bruni, with whom he has a nine-year-old daughter.

He has also been charged over allegations that he received millions of euros from the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.

And in January, prosecutors opened a probe into alleged influence-peddling involving his activities as a consultant in Russia.

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