Sarkozy charged over suspected Kadhafi campaign financing


Paris (AFP)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was charged with corruption and illegal campaign financing on Wednesday over allegations that the late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi helped fund his 2007 election campaign, a judicial source told AFP.

After four years of investigation and two days of questioning the rightwinger in police custody, judges looking into France's most explosive political scandal decided they had enough evidence to charge the 63-year-old.

The combative one-term president, who served from 2007-2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money, the source added. He returned home Wednesday after being placed under court supervision.

Sarkozy will have six months to appeal the decision, which he is likely to do, and the judges will have to make a further decision about whether they have sufficient proof to take the case to trial.

Sarkozy has been charged in two other cases which have dogged him since he left office.

He was first taken into custody in the Nanterre suburb west of Paris on Tuesday morning before returning for another grilling on Wednesday morning.

Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi's ousted regime, including his son Seif al-Islam, that Sarkozy was on the take in 2007 from the man he helped topple four years later.

He is already charged in two other cases -- one relating to a system of fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 election campaign, the other for alleged influence peddling involving a judge.

His right-wing Republicans party has so far given Sarkozy unanimous backing, but there are signs of unease among some senior conservatives who fear the fallout of the latest episode involving their former leader.

Brice Hortefeux, a Sarkozy ally who was a top minister during his presidency, was also questioned Tuesday.

"Mr Hortefeux again assured that there was no financing from Libya or any foreign country," his lawyer Jean-Yves Dupeux told AFP.

- Suitcases of cash? -

In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were driving Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that "Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign."

Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Libyan regime members who were furious over France's military intervention in Libya that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and led to his death.

The former French leader has also sued the investigative website Mediapart, which has led media coverage of the Libyan allegations since 2012 and published a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi had agreed to fund Sarkozy to the tune of 50 million euros ($62 million).

The case drew heightened scrutiny in November 2016 when a Franco-Lebanese businessman admitted delivering three cash-stuffed suitcases from the Libyan leader in 2006 and 2007 as contributions towards Sarkozy's first presidential run.

In an interview, again with Mediapart, Ziad Takieddine claimed he provided 1.5 to 2 million euros in 200-euro and 500-euro notes each time and was given the money by Kadhafi's military intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.

The legal investigation is looking into these allegations, as well as a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy ally Claude Gueant, and the sale of a luxury villa in 2009 in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund for an allegedly inflated price.

- Legal pressures -

In July 2014 Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody over a separate inquiry into claims that he tried to interfere in another of the myriad investigations that have dogged him since leaving office.

Sarkozy failed in his comeback bid for the presidency in November 2016 and has stepped back from frontline politics since then, but he still holds considerable influence with the Republicans party.