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Former French president Sarkozy's trial for corruption suspended

The trial of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling was suspended Monday less than two hours after it started, to allow for a medical report on one of the defendants.

Sarkozy accused of having tried to illegally obtain information from a magistrate

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrives to attend his trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling at a Paris courthouse on Monday. Following a two-hour hearing, the trial was suspended until Thursday. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for corruption and influence peddling was suspended Monday less than two hours after it started, to allow for a medical report on one of the defendants.

Sarkozy is being accused of having tried to illegally obtain information from a magistrate about an investigation involving him in 2014.

He stands trial in a Paris court along with his lawyer Thierry Herzog, 65, and the magistrate, Gilbert Azibert, 73. They face a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of 1 million euros ($1.5 million Cdn). They deny any wrongdoing.

Sarkozy and Herzog are suspected of promising Azibert a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking information about an investigation into suspected illegal financing of the 2007 presidential campaign by France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

High security

Sarkozy arrived at the court Monday surrounded by his lawyers and bodyguards, in the presence of dozens of journalists. The Paris court has been placed under high security as hearings in the case, scheduled until Dec. 10, are taking place at the same time as another key trial — that of the 2015 attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher supermarket.

The trial started Monday in the absence of Azibert, whose lawyer requested the hearings to be postponed. He argued his client's bad health makes it risky for him to travel and appear in court amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading the court to suspend proceedings pending an expert medical report. The trial will resume on Thursday.

Sarkozy, centre, is on trial for allegedly offering a judge, Gilbert Azibert, right, a cushy job in Monaco in exchange for information. Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, left, and the now-retired Azibert are also on trial. (Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, Thomas Coex, Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2014, Sarkozy and Herzog used secret mobile phones — registered to the alias name of "Paul Bismuth" — to be able to have private talks as they feared their conversations were being tapped.

Sarkozy and Herzog explained that they bought the phones to avoid being targeted by illegal phone tapping. Investigative judges, however, suspect they actually wanted to avoid being tapped by investigators.

'Judges listening'

Judges have found that discussions between Sarkozy and his lawyer suggested they had knowledge that judicial investigators at the time tapped their conversations on their official phones — they mentioned "judges listening."

Sarkozy argued that he never intervened to help Azibert, who did not get the job and retired in 2014.

Investigative judges consider that as soon as a deal has been offered, it constitutes a criminal offence even if the promises haven't been fulfilled.

Legal proceedings against Sarkozy have been dropped in the Bettencourt case.

Sarkozy pointed at judicial harassment, accusing judges of breaching lawyer-client privilege via wiretapping.

"I don't want things that I didn't do to be held against me. The French need to know... that I'm not a rotten person," he told news broadcaster BFM earlier this month.

He said he was facing the trial in a "combative" mood.

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