* Sarkozy handed three-year jail sentence for graft conviction
* Conservatives say investigation was politically motivated
* Singer-songwriter wife, Carla Bruni, says truth will emerge
By Richard Lough
PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative political allies and his singer-songwriter wife have rallied to the defence of the former French president after a court convicted him of corruption, but his leftist foes hailed the verdict, saying justice had been served.
A Paris court on Monday ruled that Sarkozy, 66, had tried to bribe a judge after leaving office, and to peddle influence in exchange for confidential information about an investigation into his 2007 campaign finances.
In a stunning fall from grace for a man who as president from 2007 to 2012 bestrode the national and global stage, Sarkozy was handed a three year jail sentence, suspended for two, though he is unlikely to spend any time behind bars.
Sarkozy, who denies wrongdoing and is expected to appeal, stayed uncharacteristically silent after the verdict, but Carla Bruni-Sarkozy said she was confident her husband would eventually be exonerated.
"What senseless persecution, my love. The fight goes on, the truth will emerge," the former supermodel, whom Sarkozy wed in 2008 after a whirlwind romance, said on Instagram.
Sarkozy still holds influence over his old centre-right party, now known as Les Republicains (LR), and party stalwarts were quick to restate their long-standing view that a string of criminal investigations against him were politically motivated.
"The severity of the sentence is disproportionate and indicative of the judicial harassment by an already highly contested institution," said Christian Jacob, LR party leader.
Some Sarkozy loyalists had hoped he might be persuaded to come out of political retirement and run for president again in next year's vote, but his conviction has shattered that aspiration.
For decades, corruption in French politics was common, though often went unpunished, commentators say.
Sarkozy's conservative predecessor, the late Jacques Chirac, was found guilty of corruption in 2011. Sarkozy's prime minister, Francois Fillon, was handed a jail sentence last June for embezzling funds in a scandal that wrecked his own 2017 presidential bid. Fillon has appealed his sentence.
President Emmanuel Macron's election victory that year was in part a revolt against dirty politics and a political elite disconnected from voters.
Macron has not reacted to Monday's verdict and most of the ministers in his government poached from the centre-right benches have stayed quiet, with the notable exception of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, a former Sarkozy protege.
"Everyone knows the affection and respect I have for Nicolas Sarkozy, who was a great president and who, in these difficult times, has my friendly support," Darmanin said.
Some of Sarkozy's political opponents were less forgiving.
"Sarkozy Convicted. Justice for All," was the front-page headline of left-leaning newspaper Liberation on Tuesday.
Eric Piolle, the Green party mayor of Grenoble, said: "Sentences must be carried out. Not enforcing sentences is the same as impunity." (Reporting by Richard Lough Editing by Gareth Jones)
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