Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was found guilty on Thursday and sentenced to one year of house arrest for illegal campaign funding for his unsuccessful 2012 re-election candidacy, will appeal the decision, said his lawyer.
The court said Sarkozy would be allowed to serve the one-year sentence at home wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, noted that the sentence corresponds to the maximum his client was faced with. He said he spoke to Sarkozy, who asked him to appeal.
“The verdict will not be binding” pending the appeal, he added.
Sarkozy, French president from 2007 to 2012, vigorously denied wrongdoing during the trial in May and June.
Sarkozy was not present at the Paris court for the judgment. He is accused of having spent nearly double the maximum legal amount of 22.5 million euros ($ 27.5 million) for the re-election candidacy he lost to socialist Francois Hollande.
The court said Sarkozy “knew” that the legal limit was in play and “willfully” failed to oversee the additional spending.
Thursday’s verdict comes after Sarkozy, 66, was convicted on March 1 of bribery and influence peddling in another case. He was sentenced to one year in prison, and two years suspended, in this case, but is free pending appeal.
It is the first time in modern French history that a former president has been found guilty and sentenced to prison for acts committed during his tenure. Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011 of abuse of public money while he was mayor of Paris and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.
In the campaign finance case, prosecutors concluded that Sarkozy knew weeks before the 2012 election that his spending – which is strictly limited under French law – was approaching the legal maximum. They accused him of ignoring two notes from his accountants warning about the money problem.
The court said on Thursday it had chosen to hold many rallies, including giants, despite the risk of going over the limit. “These gatherings were approved by Nicolas Sarkozy and he took advantage of them,” said the court.
During the trial, Sarkozy told the court that the extra money did not go into his campaign, but rather helped make other people richer. He denied any “fraudulent intent”. He also insisted that he didn’t take care of the day-to-day organization as he had a team to do it and therefore couldn’t be blamed for the amount of spending.
In addition to the former president, 13 other people were tried, including members of his conservative party The Republicans, accountants and officials of the communications group responsible for organizing the rallies, Bygmalion.
They were all found guilty, with sentences ranging from a suspended prison sentence to two years of house arrest with electronic bracelet. Various charges include counterfeiting, fraud and aiding and abetting illegal campaign finance.
Some admitted wrongdoing and detailed the false bill system that was intended to cover excessive expenses.
Sarkozy retired from active politics in 2017, but still plays a role behind the scenes. French media have reported that he is involved in the process of selecting a conservative candidate ahead of the French presidential election next year.