Nicholas Sarkozy in police custody over campaign funding

Former French president questioned about allegations Libya funded 2007 campaign

Funding allegations: Muammar Gadafy with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Photograph: Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Funding allegations: Muammar Gadafy with Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Photograph: Gamma-Rapho via Getty

 

The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into police custody on Tuesday for questioning about alleged Libyan financing of his 2007 presidential campaign. Mr Sarkozy denies having received Libyan money and calls the accusations grotesque.

The investigation started in May 2012, when the investigative website Mediapart published a note attributed to a former head of Libyan external intelligence, Moussa Koussa, saying that the country’s late dictator, Muammar Gadafy, gave Mr Sarkozy €50 million for his campaign. A former head of Libyan military intelligence, Abdallah Senoussi, made similar allegations before the Libyan national transition council in September 2012.

Mr Sarkozy invited Gadafy on a state visit to Paris in December 2007, five months after he was elected president. The French leader turned against Gadafy in March 2011, when France and the UK bombarded Gadafy’s forces. Gadafy was killed the following October.

The Lebanese middleman Ziad Takieddine told Mediapart in 2016 that he had personally delivered three suitcases containing €5 million in €200 and €500 banknotes to the French interior ministry when Mr Sarkozy was minister there.

Mr Takieddine claimed he handed the suitcases to Claude Guéant, who was Mr Sarkozy’s cabinet director and later became secretary general of the Élysée, in Mr Sarkozy’s presence. Mr Guéant is under investigation for alleged fraud and money laundering.

Mysterious death

Notebooks that belonged to the former Libyan petroleum minister Shukri Ghanem, and that mention gifts of money to Mr Sarkozy, are in the possession of French investigating magistrates. Mr Ghanem died in mysterious circumstances in 2012.

Bechir Saleh, who was Gadafy’s financier, told Le Monde newspaper, “Gadafy told me he financed Sarkozy. Sarkozy told me he was not financed [by Gadafy]. I believe Gadafy more than I believe Sarkozy.” Mr Saleh is the subject of an international arrest warrant. He was wounded by bullets in Johannesburg, in South Africa, in January.

Alexandre Djouhri, an associate of Mr Saleh, was arrested in London in January and has been hospitalised for cardiac problems, pending possible extradition to France. Documents were seized during a search of Mr Djouhri’s Swiss home in 2015.

France’s central anti-corruption office recently provided investigating magistrates with a report on the use of cash by Mr Sarkozy’s campaign team.

Laurent Wauquiez, Mr Sarkozy’s successor as leader of the conservative Les Républicains party, did not comment on his mentor’s detention. Party officials said Mr Sarkozy had been cleared of wrongdoing in other financial scandals and was innocent until proven guilty.

In February 2017 Judge Serge Tournaire announced he would send Mr Sarkozy to trial for financial offences in his 2012 presidential campaign, known as the Bygmalion scandal. Mr Sarkozy is appealing that decision.

Presidential immunity prevented Mr Sarkozy from being pursued in connection with the sham arbitration that awarded €405 million to his friend Bernard Tapie.

Mr Sarkozy can be held by police for up to 48 hours and could be formally placed under investigation, which is tantamount to being charged, for active and passive corruption, influence-peddling, use of false documents, fraud, money laundering and complicity in these offences.