Perhaps it’s a measure of the disproportionate attention given to US politics in the UK over politics nearer to home; but the non-event publicity stunt that was the second Trump impeachment trial received considerably more coverage here than events just across the Channel. In Washington, the chronically-cuckoo Nancy Pelosi was busy burning the bridges that President Biden professed to be building within days of Sleepy Joe’s inauguration, but perhaps the whole anticlimactic circus wasn’t so much another act of desperate revenge on the part of Democrats as a distraction from the new President’s hawkish ambitions. With all eyes still focused on the Bad Orange Man, maybe Biden hoped no one would notice him reviving America’s dormant tradition of warmongering by planning his bombing strategy for Syria. Meanwhile, somewhere in a country considerably closer to these shores than the US of A, a former President was also in the dock, only this time the outcome was a tad more damning.
Nicolas Sarkozy, a man I once referred to on here as an ‘obnoxious, corrupt midget’ – why mince words, eh? – has been sentenced to three years in le clink after being found guilty on corruption charges. The man who was President of the Fifth Republic between 2007 and 2012 is naturally appealing against his conviction, though he’s not exactly being carted off to the Bastille (metaphorically speaking); he will remain a free man throughout the appeal process, which will probably be dragged out for a long time. The sentence may be a three-year one, but two of the three years are suspended and the remaining year would see the 66-year-old former ‘bling-bling’ Napoleon serve out his sentence with the sole punishment of being electronically tagged. The source of Sarkozy’s troubles stretch back a decade, dating from accusations that surfaced halfway through his solitary term as President, ones that claimed he’d received illegal campaign donations in cash from ‘L’Oreal heiress’ Lilliane Bettencourt during his 2007 run for office. Two years after leaving the Élysée Palace, he was arrested when it emerged he’d promised a cushy Monaco post to a high-ranking judge in return for info on the investigation into the campaign donations allegation.
Although there was found to be no foundation to the Bettencourt allegations, Sarkozy’s interference in the investigation and his inducements to the judge have cost him. Sarkozy had harboured hopes of a political return following his 2012 defeat by François Hollande, but his 2014 detainment in police custody and the consequent official digging into his activities put paid to a comeback, playing its part in Sarkozy’s failure to be selected by his party to run for office again in 2017. However, Sarkozy was no stranger to scandal; back in 2009, a full year before the illegal campaign payments allegation, the man with the supermodel missus was accused of nepotism after attempting to secure a position for his son as head of the public body that runs France’s premier business district. Matt Hancock was probably peering down the Channel Tunnel at the time and making mental notes on how to award contracts should the opportunity ever arise at a future date.
Anyway, the trial relating to the corruption investigation begun in 2014 got underway last November, when we in Blighty had our heads turned instead towards Washington. Between initial arrest and trial, Sarkozy was also indicted on separate charges in 2016, this time regarding overspending on his 2012 Presidential campaign; a trial relating to this is scheduled for the spring. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of alleged Libyan influence in the 2007 French Presidential Election; an allegation that Libya donated €50 million to Sarkozy’s campaign that year in exchange for favours led to further police questioning for the ex-President in 2018 and charges of corruption. So, in the light of his sentencing, it’s fair to say Monsieur Sarkozy has form. Then again, the office itself has form – or at least from Sarkozy’s immediate predecessor onwards. In 2011, the late Jacques Chirac was found guilty of embezzlement and breach of trust from his time as Mayor of Paris, though he received a two-year suspended sentence.
At one time, I suppose this story would have seemed shocking. Today, it merely seems surprising that a former world leader was actually found guilty of corruption, so unaccustomed are we to seeing those in positions of power receiving punishment for their crimes. However, so low is the public esteem to which the holders of high office have sunk – and so low is the expectation that justice will be done – that we all pretty much suspect Nicolas Sarkozy won’t even so much as receive a six-month holiday in an open prison. The anticipated narrative is that expensive lawyers will play the legal system for years in order to maintain their client’s freedom, and then their client will eventually pop his clogs without ever having to once break sweat when bending over to retrieve a bar of soap during a shower. Let’s face it, nobody is really surprised anymore by the revelation that those who reach the pinnacle of political power are corrupt; the general consensus appears to be if they weren’t already bent on the way up, they’ll certainly succumb to it once they get there.
Sadly, this unavoidably apathetic acceptance of such a belief benefits the powerful; it convinces them they’re beyond the law because the public have become almost immune to the blatant abuse of power that every leader of every poxy council, political party or government seems to indulge in bereft of the slightest semblance of conscience. The amount of times Boris Johnson has fumbled, bumbled and basically lied his way out of the corner he’d painted himself into is so innumerable now that people have stopped counting or caring. He’s not even especially skilled at covering his back or coming up with a feasible fib to assure us our suspicions are unfounded, yet he simply gets away with it because no one expects anything better anymore. Yes, it’s cynicism on the part of the public, but it also reflects the fact those we elect are people we don’t really believe in or care about; we just pick the least awful man or woman we’re offered. After all, remember the alternatives to Boris at the last General Election.
Researching the Salmond/Sturgeon story from a couple of posts ago, I saw nothing there that persuaded me major heads would roll; in an ideal world, they should. But part of me just thought, hey, so they’re as bent as a nine-bob note, so what’s new? Shoulders shrug and wait for the next revelation to be greeted with indifference. And it’s not even exclusive to politics. As far as I’m aware, no police officer has been convicted for turning a blind eye to the grooming gangs and nobody has yet answered for what happened at Grenfell Tower. Shocking, yes, but surprising? No. This is what we expect because we’ve come to believe ‘they’re all at it’; but it’s been like this for a long time. Take it back to the Expenses’ Scandal or the illegal invasion of Iraq, if you like – or go back further, all the way to Watergate or Profumo. I guess this is why a former French President of such recent vintage being found guilty in a court of law and receiving a sentence – regardless of whether or not he serves a single day of it – has come as such a pleasant surprise. Sure, it’s no surprise that Nicolas Sarkozy was exposed as an ‘obnoxious, corrupt midget’; but it is a surprise that he was finally done for it. Vive la France.
© The Editor