Days before a crucial French presidential primary, Nicolas Sarkozy is facing new allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal financing from late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
Sarkozy has 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 with investigative website Mediapart released Tuesday, 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. Takieddine describes three alleged handovers in unusual detail.
Investigators are examining claims that Gadhafi’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 rules against foreign financing and declaring the sources 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 the presidency again after losing it in 2012 to Socialist Francois Hollande. Polls suggest he and former Prime Minister Alain Juppe are the frontrunners for their conservative party, the Republicans.
In the Mediapart interview, Takieddine says he was given 5 million euros in Tripoli by Gadhafi’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. Gueant has also denied wrongdoing.
Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gadhafi. Soon after becoming 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 Gadhafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters 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 notably want him and 13 others sent to trial for another campaign financing case, involving his failed 2012 presidential bid.