Key witness drops claims against ex-president Sarkozy in Libya campaign funding scandal

·3-min read

A leading witness retracted allegations on Wednesday that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy took millions in cash from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to finance his 2007 presidential campaign.

Earlier in the case, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine had claimed he delivered suitcases carrying a total of €5 million from Tripoli to Sarkozy's chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.

Takieddine, 70, who is in Beirut on the run from French justice related to another shady financing affair, released a video saying the instructing magistrate had twisted his words.

"I am saying loud and clear: the magistrate ... really wanted to turn it the way he wanted and make me say things that are totally contradictory to what I said," Takieddine said.

"There was no financing of Sarkozy's presidential campaign," he added.

The former president jumped on the first reports of Takieddine's reversal from BFM TV and Paris Match, saying: "The truth is out at last."

"For seven and a half years, the investigation has not discovered the slightest proof of any illegal financing whatsoever," he posted on Facebook.

"The chief accuser recognises his lies," Sarkozy added. "He never gave me money, there was never illegal financing of my campaign in 2007."

Sarkozy said he would be instructing his lawyers to seek to dismiss the case against him and sue Takieddine for defamation.

French prosecutors last month said they had placed Sarkozy under formal investigation for "membership in a criminal conspiracy" after more than 40 hours of questioning over four days, prosecutors told AFP.

He was already facing formal investigations for "accepting bribes," "benefitting from embezzled public funds" and "illegal campaign financing" from 2018.

The October legal moves were seen to increase the chance of a trial for Sarkozy, who was already poised to become the first former French president in the dock on corruption charges.

Prosecutors suspected that Sarkozy and his associates received tens of millions of euros from Gaddafi's regime to help finance his first election bid.

Litany of legal woes

Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has always denied any wrongdoing.

He has been under pressure since 2012, when the investigative website Mediapart published a document purporting to show that Gaddafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to €50 million ($59 million at current rates).

But four years later, Sarkozy was a driving force behind the 2011 international military invention that drove Gaddafi from power and plunged Libya into civil war.

A trained lawyer, Sarkozy has fought the claims of Libyan funding by citing presidential immunity and arguing there is no legal basis in France for prosecuting someone for misusing funds from a foreign country.

He has faced a litany of legal woes since leaving office, including the Bygmalion Affair – allegations that executives at the Bygmalion public relations firm created fake invoices to mask overspending on Sarkozy's failed 2012 re-election bid.

In a third case, Sarkozy faces charges of trying to obtain classified information from a judge on an inquiry into claims that he accepted illicit payments from L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy was cleared over the Bettencourt allegations in 2013.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)