The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has denounced allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal election campaign funding from the regime of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi as “crazy” and “monstrous”.
“There is no proof … not even the slightest beginning of any proof,” Sarkozy told French TV after he was placed under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing, accepting bribes and the misappropriation of Libyan state funds over allegations that he received the illegal funding from Gaddafi for his election in 2007.
“I have never betrayed the trust of the French people,” Sarkozy told TF1 news in an angry TV appearance. The former French president said Gaddafi was a “crazy man who likely used drugs”, a blood-thirsty dictator whose “band of killers, crooks and mafiosos” were now slandering Sarkozy because he had helped topple the Gaddafi regime in 2011. Sarkozy said he had never taken “one cent” and denounced the case as a plot aimed at stopping him from serving a second term.
The Sarkozy investigation is France’s most potentially explosive political financing scandal in decades. The allegations are unprecedented and are the most serious accusations levelled at a former president in recent French history.
The investigation raises questions, not just about the workings of French democracy, but also about the country’s leading role in the 2011 intervention that led to Gaddafi’s death, which at the time in France was dubbed “Sarkozy’s war”.
Investigators are examining claims that Gaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50m overall to illegally finance Sarkozy’s successful 2007 campaign against the left’s first female presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal. Millions of euros were allegedly channelled to Sarkozy from the Libyan regime – some delivered as bundles of cash in leather briefcases, including directly to Sarkozy’s office.
The €50m sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit, which was €21m at the time. The alleged payments would also violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds.
Sarkozy was released from custody on Wednesday under special judicial supervision, after he was questioned for 25 hours by police. He denied all allegations.
Under French law, being put under formal investigation means there is “serious or consistent evidence” that points to probable involvement in a crime. It is a step toward a trial but investigations can be dropped without proceeding to court. If the case were to go to trial, Sarkozy could face prison.
The case accelerated this year after Ziad Takieddine, a wealthy French-Lebanese businessman who was close to Gaddafi’s regime, told Mediapart in 2016 that in three trips between Tripoli and Paris in 2006 and 2007, he had personally delivered suitcases stuffed with millions of euros in €200 and €500 notes from the Libyan leader as payments towards Sarkozy’s campaign. Takieddine is under formal investigation in the case.
Takieddine was “highly suspect”, Sarkozy said, an unstable “crook” and a “liar”. He said he was not in Paris when Takieddine allegedly made a delivery to him and had not met him after 2002.
Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Soon after becoming the French president, he invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honours. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of Nato-led airstrikes against Gaddafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.
The investigation is focusing on documents, testimony and a vast cast of characters, amid dramatic twists.
One key Libyan figure, the Gaddafi loyalist and former oil minister Shukri Ghanem, was found drowned in the Danube river in Vienna in 2012. Documents belonging to Ghanem allegedly refer to three payments in 2007 to Sarkozy for at least €6.5m.
Bashir Saleh, who ran Libya’s sovereign wealth fund under Gaddafi, is wanted for questioning in France. He was injured in a shooting in South Africa last month, but survived.
Alexandre Djouhri, a French businessman suspected by investigators of funnelling money from Gaddafi to finance Sarkozy’s campaign, was arrested in Britain in January and is in detention in London pending an extradition request by France.
Investigators are looking at whether Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign was awash with cash that was unaccounted for.
Mediapart, an investigative website which first broke the story in 2012, a year before the official investigation opened, reported that police had looked at why Claude Guéant, Sarkozy’s close ally, had rented a large, walk-in safe at a central Paris bank during the 2007 campaign. Asked what it was used for, Guéant had said it was for archives and storing Sarkozy’s speeches.
Guéant has been officially put under investigation for organised fraud in the Gaddafi inquiry after allegedly receiving a bank transfer of €500,000, which he claimed had come from the sale of two Flemish paintings. He has denied all allegations.