Sunday 20 January 2019

Sarkozy held over claims he got funding from Gaddafi

Former French president denies 2007 election campaign received €48m from Libya

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and French president Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting in the Élysée Palace in 2007. Photo: AP
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and French president Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting in the Élysée Palace in 2007. Photo: AP

David Chazan

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's former president, was questioned by police yesterday over allegations that his election campaign in 2007 had received €48m in illegal funding from the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Mr Sarkozy (63) was taken into custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Under French law, he may be held for up to 48 hours before being released or placed under formal investigation, a stage in the French legal process equivalent to being charged.

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The former president has dismissed the Libya allegations as "grotesque" and a "crude manipulation".

France's centre-right party, The Republicans, backed its former leader.

"Members and supporters of The Republicans are once again left feeling that not all lawmakers or former lawmakers are treated equally, depending on their political affiliation," the party said in a statement.

Mr Sarkozy was held for questioning over separate corruption allegations in 2014, but it is the first time that he has been interviewed by police over the Libya-related accusations, although the investigation began in 2013.

A judicial source said police would only have summoned Mr Sarkozy, as the principal suspect, if the investigation was close to completion.

Brice Hortefeux, a close ally of Mr Sarkozy who served as his interior minister, was also questioned but not taken into custody.

Months after he took office in 2007, Mr Sarkozy became the first Western leader in decades to host a visit by Gaddafi, who pitched his trademark Bedouin-style tent next to the Élysée Palace. Several business deals were signed.

However, Mr Sarkozy later spearheaded international military action against the Gaddafi regime in 2011 along with David Cameron and Barack Obama, which led to the dictator being toppled and killed.

Suspicions that Mr Sarkozy's campaign had breached France's strict political financing rules by accepting money from Gaddafi first emerged in a 2012 report by the investigative news website Mediapart.

Since then, Mr Sarkozy's aides and several suspects, said to have acted as intermediaries between France and Libya, have come under close scrutiny.

Alexandre Djouhri, a French-Algerian businessman, was arrested at Heathrow Airport in January and is being held while a request for extradition to France is considered. Mr Djouhri has also denied wrongdoing.

In 2015, Claude Gueant, Mr Sarkozy's former chief of staff who also served as his interior minister, was charged in connection with the investigation.

He denies accusations of money laundering and tax evasion.

Detectives have questioned about 10 people who worked on Mr Sarkozy's campaign, according to a legal source. "All of them said cash had been handed out, but they didn't know where it came from," a source said. Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese arms dealer who introduced Mr Sarkozy to Gaddafi, told Mediapart in 2016 that he had carried three suitcases stuffed with cash from Libya to Paris, personally handing over €5m intended for Mr Sarkozy's campaign to Mr Gueant in 2006 and 2007.

Mr Sarkozy retired from active politics after failing to win the presidential nomination of his centre-right Republicans party last year.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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