Former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was ordered on Friday to stand trial on corruption charges over allegations that his 2007 campaign received illegal funding from the Libyan government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, in one of the most serious of the legal entanglements dogging the French politician since he left office.
After a decade-long investigation, magistrates in Paris ordered Mr. Sarkozy to be tried on charges of passive corruption, illegal campaign financing, criminal conspiracy and concealing the misappropriation of public funds, according to Jean-François Bohnert, France’s top financial prosecutor. If convicted, Mr. Sarkozy could face up to 10 years in prison.
A three-month trial is scheduled for early 2025, Mr. Bohnert said in a statement, although that date could be delayed by appeals from Mr. Sarkozy, who has strenuously denied the accusations, or by other defendants in the case.
Mr. Sarkozy, 68, a conservative politician who was France’s president from 2007 to 2012, remains an influential figure in French politics, despite the array of legal troubles. But the allegations that his campaign illegally accepted money from Colonel Qaddafi, the former Libyan strongman assassinated in 2011, have been the most explosive.
The complex case was opened in 2013, after a 2012 report by the investigative news website Mediapart suggested that Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign had received significant funding from the Qaddafi government, violating rules against foreign election funding. There have been conflicting accounts of the amount of money said to have changed hands.
Mr. Sarkozy did not immediately react on Friday to the order to stand trial. Instead, he shared a video on his Facebook page that showed fans greeting him for a recent signing of a new volume of his memoirs.
Asked about his multiple court cases, Mr. Sarkozy said this week in a television interview that he had “nothing to blame myself for.”
“If I have to go to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure the truth prevails, I will,” he told the TF1 television channel on Sunday. “I am a citizen who answers to the law, who is not above the law, but not beneath it either.”
Mr. Sarkozy has argued that the accusations against him were driven by allies of Colonel Qaddafi seeking revenge. Under Mr. Sarkozy’s leadership, France played a prominent role in the NATO-led campaign of airstrikes that ultimately led to the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi and his death at the hands of Libyan rebels.
Twelve other people were ordered to stand trial on Friday on similar corruption and embezzlement charges, including Bashir Saleh Bashir, a former confidant of Colonel Qaddafi; former top aides to Mr. Sarkozy; and several businessmen who played murky roles as intermediaries between France and Libya when relations between the countries warmed early in Mr. Sarkozy’s presidency.
Those defendants include Claude Guéant, who ran Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign before becoming his chief of staff and then interior minister; Éric Woerth, the campaign’s former treasurer; and Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese businessman who had said he personally delivered millions in cash and who has since fled to Lebanon.
Mr. Sarkozy no longer holds public office but he is still popular with the base of the conservative party, Les Républicains, and has some sway within it. And although Mr. Sarkozy recently distanced himself from President Emmanuel Macron over France’s policies toward Ukraine, the two have a good relationship.
But after years of investigations, a flurry of legal case have recently culminated in damaging convictions for Mr. Sarkozy.
In March 2021, he became the first former president in France’s recent history to be sentenced to actual prison time after he was convicted on charges of corruption and influence peddling for trying to obtain information illegally from a judge about a court case against him. In May, an appeals court upheld that sentence, although Mr. Sarkozy is filing a new appeal on procedural grounds before France’s highest court.
In September 2021, Mr. Sarkozy was found guilty of illegally financing his 2012 presidential bid by exceeding a strict electoral spending cap. He was sentenced to a year of house arrest. He appealed, and a trial is scheduled for November.
In any case, Mr. Sarkozy is unlikely to spend time behind bars in the near future. Appeals can take years to make their way through the French court system, and even if his current sentences are upheld, he would probably be allowed to serve any term outside of prison, for instance at home, with an electronic monitor attached.