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Prosecutor to investigate claims of cash from Africa
A Paris prosecutor is to open a preliminary investigation into claims made by unofficial go-between Robert Bourgi (pictured) that former French President Jacques Chirac received suitcases full of cash from African heads of state while in office.
REUTERS - The Paris prosecutor's office opened an inquiry on Tuesday into allegations that former president Jacques Chirac and his prime minister Dominique de Villepin took millions of dollars in cash from African leaders.
The prosecutor's office said Robert Bourgi, a former aide to Chirac who made the graft accusations in French media at the weekend, would be questioned in the investigation.
Bourgi, a lawyer, claims he handed some $20 million in secret political donations to Chirac and Villepin from heads of state of former French colonies. The cash was stuffed into suitcases, hidden in African drums or rolled inside posters.
Both Chirac, president from 1995-2007, and Villepin, who may challenge President Nicolas Sarkozy as a centre-right candidate in the 2012 presidential election, plan to sue.
French political parties have been tarnished by a string of scandals in past years for breaching legal limits on campaign funding. Bourgi, said the practice of tapping African allies -- part of a patronage network commonly known as "Francafrique" -- went back to the 1960s.
The main opposition Socialist Party called on Tuesday for a parliamentary inquiry into Bourgi's allegations.
"We cannot have this sickening situation in the run-up to a presidential election, and we want a parliamentary inquiry into the affair," said Alain Vidalies, spokesman for the Socialist Party in the National Assembly.
Bourgi said the cash was donated by the leaders of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Congo and Gabon, two of whom -- Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso -- are still in office.
Karim Wade, son of the Senegalese president and head of a "super ministry", denied Bourgi's allegations in a statement, calling them "extremely serious, untrue and incredible".
Bourgi, born in Dakar to a family of Lebanese origin, said Villepin dropped contact with him in 2005. He then worked in a similar informal advisory capacity for Sarkozy but, he said, never delivered cash in the same way.
Chirac's lawyer, Jean Veil, said he would sue Bourgi for defamation. Villepin told the Journal du Dimanche: "All of this is worthless talk and smokescreens."
The Paris Bar has opened an ethics investigation into Bourgi, saying the role of intermediary for the transmission of secret funds was inconsistent with his profession.