PARIS – Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was taken into custody Tuesday in connection with allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal campaign financing from the regime of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
A judicial source with direct knowledge of the case told the Associated Press that Sarkozy was being held at the Nanterre police station, north-west of Paris. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Sarkozy arrived at the police station early in the morning and remained there well into the night. It was unclear if he would be kept in custody overnight.
Sarkozy, 63, has vehemently and repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves funding for his winning 2007 presidential campaign.
A lawyer for the former president did not respond to a message from the AP seeking comment.
While an investigation has been underway since 2013, it gained traction when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the online investigative site Mediapart in 2016 that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing $6.1 million in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff, Claude Gueant.
Investigators are examining claims that Gadhafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy $61 million overall for the 2007 French campaign. The sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time, $25 million. In addition, the alleged payments would violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds.
A former top aide of Sarkozy’s, former minister Brice Hortefeux, was reportedly questioned Tuesday but not detained.
Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-12, had a complex relationship with Gadhafi. Soon after becoming winning the French presidency, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader for a state visit and welcomed him to France with high honors.
But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gadhafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.
In the Mediapart interview, Takieddine said he was given 5 million euros in Tripoli by Gadhafi’s intelligence chief in late 2006 and 2007 and that he gave the money to Sarkozy and Gueant in suitcases on three occasions. He said the cash transfers took place in the French Interior Ministry, while Sarkozy was interior minister.
Takieddine has for years been embroiled in his own problems with French justice. They center mainly on allegations he provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard Balladur for his 1995 presidential election campaign – via commissions from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.
Takieddine made his claims when Sarkozy was campaigning to be the presidential candidate of the right-wing The Republicans party. Sarkozy lost in the first round.
According to Le Monde newspaper, investigators have recently provided magistrates with a report detailing how cash circulated within Sarkozy’s campaign team.
In January, a French businessman suspected of playing a role in the financing scheme, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London on a French warrant “for offenses of fraud and money laundering.” Le Monde said French investigators are also in possession of several documents seized at his home in Switzerland.
It is not the first time that Sarkozy faced legal troubles. In February 2017, he was ordered to stand trial after being handed preliminary charges for suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign. Sarkozy has appealed the decision.
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