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The 'troublesome friend' of French politics slams Gaddafi funding claims

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has angrily dismissed allegations that he received 50 million euros from former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Once again, the man in the middle appears to be Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine.

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He has been witness to some of France’s darkest secrets, a Franco-Lebanese businessman who has been implicated in some of the nation’s biggest arms scandals. But Ziad Takieddine has always maintained that he’s more comfortable in the background than on center-stage.

The spotlight though has a way of singling out the 61-year-old businessman who has been a middle-man in a number of arms and oil contracts between France and several Middle East nations.

The latest scandal surrounds Takieddine’s alleged role in a reported transfer of 50 million euros from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

In an article published Monday, French investigative news site Mediapart alleged that Takieddine, who organized Sarkozy's visits to Libya in 2005 and 2007, was the middleman in the murky deal.

But in an interview with FRANCE 24 Monday night, Takieddine vehemently denied the report, dismissing it as “lies” before adding, “none of this happened. There was not one bit of any finance from Libya to France or from Gaddafi to Sarkozy – nothing.”

For many French people, the latest allegation has a familiar ring.

In March 2011, as Sarkozy was spearheading an international campaign to impose a no-fly zone over uprising-hit Libya, Gaddafi’s eldest son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told Euronews TV that his father had financed Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign. “He’s disappointed us,” said Saif al-Islam before declaring, “Give us back our money.”

The allegation was not taken seriously at that time given the source and the circumstances surrounding the quote.

But when it resurfaced this week, Sarkozy – like Takieddine – vehemently denied the accusation.

In an interview with French TV station TF1 Monday night, Sarkozy said, “It's grotesque and I am sorry that I am being interrogated about declarations of Gaddafi or his son on an important channel like TF1.”

The visibly irate French president then went on to add: “Gaddafi, who is known for talking nonsense, even said that there were cheques. Well then the son should just go ahead and produce them.”

The Libyan leader was killed in October 2011 and his eldest son is currently being held by a rebel militia group in Libya.

According to the French National Commission for Campaign Accounts and Political Funding, Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign bill was just under 22 million euros, a figure that has prompted questions about the veracity of Gaddafi’s alleged 50 million euro payment to Sarkozy’s campaign.

In his interview with FRANCE 24, Takieddine blasted the Mediapart site as “the biggest liars that could possibly exist in all of civilisation”.

Friends in high places, services for France

Takieddine was in the FRANCE 24 studios to talk about his recently published book, “L’ami encombrant” which in English means, “The troublesome friend”.

Published just two months ahead of the French presidential election, the book features Takieddine’s accounts of the close links he forged with leading French politicians and officials and the “services” he has performed for France.

In the book, Takieddine discusses his involvement in the high-profile 2007 release of Bulgarian nurses detained in Libya. Sarkozy played a pivotal role in negotiating the release of the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian medic who Gaddafi accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV.

In his interview with FRANCE 24, Takieddine said the original plan he worked on went awry when the Gaddafi regime at the last minute demanded a 135 million euro payment to a victims relief fund set up by the Libyan strongman. “This was at the last minute and France didn’t want it because there was already an agreement,” explained Takieddine.

In the end, the issue was resolved when the Qatari government finally guaranteed a 300 million euro payment to the “greedy Libyans,” said Takieddine.

The ‘Karachigate’ plot thickens

For many French readers, Takieddine’s account of his involvement – or lack thereof – in what has come to be called the “Karachigate” scandal will be of special interest ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

A complicated plot involving the 2002 killing of 14 people   including 11 French engineers   in the Pakistani city of Karachi, which involves defence sales, kickback allegations and intermediaries reportedly channelling millions of dollars worth of cash, Karachigate has been making headlines in France over the past few years and has long threatened to implicate Sarkozy.

French media reports as well as some of the families of the Karachi attack victims have suggested that the suicide bombing was in retaliation for scrapped defence commissions.

According to media reports, millions of dollars worth of cash were deposited in the campaign bank account of former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who was running against Jacques Chirac in 1995. Balladur’s campaign manager at that time was Sarkozy. He eventually lost to Chirac.

Media reports say Takieddine was one of two Lebanese-born businessmen who served as intermediaries in the deal.

The case is currently under judicial investigation and Takieddine has been placed under investigation, a legal move in France that is one step short of being charged.

In his interview with FRANCE 24, Takieddine dismissed the attempts to link the 2002 suicide attack in a volatile city like Karachi with a 1995 campaign funding issue.

“Pakistan was a country at war exactly like Afghanistan at that time. Osama bin Laden was already there. Terrorists were already there. France had already sent soldiers to the battlefield in Afghanistan. There was as an antipathy for France in Pakistan like there was for America,” said Takieddine.

But history has a way of catching up with Takieddine and it looks like history might still have a few accounts to settle with the businessman who shuns, but can’t seem to avoid, the spotlight.

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