France’s Sarkozy slapped with ‘conspiracy’ charges over Libya financing

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French prosecutors suspect Sarkozy and his associates received millions of euros from the regime of Libya’s former strongman Muammar Gaddafi to help finance his election bid.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy poses during a studio photo session in Paris, October 18, 2016.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy poses during a studio photo session in Paris, October 18, 2016. (AFP)

French prosecutors have slapped criminal conspiracy charges on former president Nicolas Sarkozy over his alleged used of Libyan cash for his 2007 election campaign.

The charge for “membership in a criminal conspiracy” was brought on Monday, the prosecutors told AFP.

It adds to charges lodged in 2018 of “passive corruption,” “benefitting from embezzled public funds” and “illegal campaign financing” for which Sarkozy already faces trial.

Prosecutors suspect that Sarkozy and his associates received millions of euros from the regime of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi to help finance his election bid.

Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has denied any wrongdoing, saying on his Facebook page on Friday that his “innocence had been tarnished” by the charges, without “even the slightest proof.”

Suitcases full of cash

The latest charge, which can be appealed under French law, came after prosecutors interviewed the rightwing conservative for more than 40 hours over four days.

He said that during the questioning “I answered every question I was asked without ever being put in difficulty.”

Sarkozy, 65, denies the charges that were sparked by investigative website Mediapart in 2012, when it published a document purporting to show that Gaddafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to up to 50 million euros or $59 million at current rates.

In his defence Sarkozy – who is himself a trained lawyer – has claimed presidential immunity, and said there is no legal basis in France for prosecuting someone for misusing funds from a foreign country.

Judges are also investigating claims by a French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he delivered suitcases carrying a total of five million euros from the Libyan regime to Sarkozy’s chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.

After seven years of investigation efforts resulting in witness statements from Libyan officials, Gaddafi’s secret service and from middlemen, prosecutors believe they can show that Sarkozy’s campaign was indeed financed by Gaddafi.

But legal experts also question whether the charges hinge on circumstantial evidence rather than the sort of ironclad proof of Sarkozy’s guilt that would ensure a conviction.

Sarkozy’s former ministers Claude Gueant and Eric Woerth are also charged in the case, which is not the only legal headache for the former rightwing president, who is no longer active in politics.

He has also been charged in two other cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign, and another for alleged influence peddling.

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