Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been convicted of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison.
The unexpected verdict reduced a Paris court to stunned silence as he is only the second former president in modern France, after the late Jacques Chirac, to be convicted of corruption.
But the 66-year-old politician, who served as president from 2007 to 2012, may not even have to spend a single day in jail.
Prosecutors had found Sarkozy guilty of trying to bribe now-retired magistrate Gilbert Azibert to release confidential information about an inquiry into allegations that he had accepted illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.
In exchange, Sarkozy had offered to secure him a plum job in Monaco, according to wiretapped conversations between him and his lawyer and long-time friend Thierry Herzog in 2013.
Sarkozy had been using a false name, Paul Bismuth, to make phone calls to Herzog about the decision that the Court of Cassation was about to take regarding the seizure of presidential diaries in a separate case.
Prosecutors concluded that the “clearly stated promise” of a plum job constituted a corruption offence, even if the promise wasn’t fulfilled.
The court found “serious and concurring evidence” that the three men had forged a “pact of corruption” and conspired to break the law.
Each was given the same three-year prison sentence of which two years are suspended, meaning Sarkozy would have only one year to serve.
But offenders in France usually only physically go to jail if they have to spend at least two years behind bars.
Plus, Sarkozy’s lawyer has announced he intends to appeal his conviction over corruption and influence peddling.
This process would lead to a new trial, and even if the ruling is not in his favour, he could serve the one-year prison sentence outside jail by requesting to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.
His wife, Carla Bruni, took to Instagram to declare “the fight continues”.
Sarkozy has maintained he was the victim of a witch-hunt by financial prosecutors who used excessive means to snoop on his affairs.
“You have in front of you a man of whom more that 3700 private conversations have been wiretapped,” Sarkozy said during the 10-day trial.
“What did I do to deserve that?”
He told the court that his political life was all about, “giving [people] a little help”.
“That all it is, a little help,” he said.
Retired from politics but still influential among conservatives, Sarkozy has 10 days to appeal the ruling.