Days before a crucial presidential primary, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy faces fresh allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal financing from the strongman Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
Sarkozy and his former chief of staff have denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves funding for his winning 2007 presidential campaign. An investigation has been underway since 2013.
In a video interview released Tuesday with the investigative website Mediapart, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine said he delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff.
Investigators are examining claims that Gaddafi's regime secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros overall for the 2007 campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time of 21 million euros. In addition, the alleged payments would violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds. Officials in Sarkozy's campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the latest allegations.
Sarkozy faces conservative rivals in a primary Sunday as he seeks to regain the presidency after losing it in 2012 to Socialist Francois Hollande. Polls suggest he and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé are the front-runners for their conservative party, the Republicans.
In the Mediapart interview, Takieddine says he was given 5 million euros in Tripoli by Gaddafi's intelligence chief on trips in late 2006 and 2007. He says he gave the money in suitcases full of cash to Sarkozy and Claude Gueant on three occasions. He says the handovers took place in the Interior Ministry, while Sarkozy was interior minister and Gueant was his chief of staff.
Tajieddine has for years been embroiled in his own problems with French justice, centering mainly but not only on allegations that he provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard Balladur for the 1995 presidential election — via commissions from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.
Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Soon after becoming the French president, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gaddafi's troops that helped topple his regime in 2011.
Sarkozy faces other legal troubles, too, though nothing prevents him from seeking office while they are still under investigation. Prosecutors want him and 13 others sent to trial for another campaign financing case involving his failed 2012 presidential bid.
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