PARIS: French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Tuesday over allegations that late Libyan dictator Moamer Gaddafi financed his 2007 election campaign, including with suitcases stuffed with cash, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Sarkozy was taken into police custody early Tuesday morning and was being questioned by officers specialising in corruption, money laundering and tax evasion at their office in the western Parisian suburb of Nanterre.
The 63-year-old was summoned for questioning in France’s most explosive political financing scandal, one of several legal probes that have dogged the right-winger since he left office after one term in 2012.
Sarkozy’s detention was first reported by the Mediapart investigative news site and French daily Le Monde.
AFP’s source said that Brice Hortefeux, a close ally who served as a senior minister during Sarkozy’s presidency, was also questioned Tuesday as part of the inquiry.
Since 2013, investigating magistrates have been probing media reports, as well as statements by Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, that claimed funds were provided for Sarkozy’s first tilt at the presidency.
“Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign,” Seif told the Euronews network in 2011 as NATO-backed forces were driving his father out of power.
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 Gaddafi’s 41-year rule and led to his death.
He has also sued Mediapart, which has driven media coverage of the Libyan allegations since 2012 when it published a document allegedly signed by Libya’s intelligence chief showing that Gaddafi 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 dropped 1.5 to 2 million euros in 200-euro and 500-euro notes each time and was given the money by Gaddafi´s military intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.
When asked about the allegations during a televised debate in 2016, Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and said the businessman was a “liar” who had been convicted “countless times for defamation”.
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.