Gavin Mortimer

Nicolas Sarkozy held on Gaddafi funding claims

Nicolas Sarkozy held on Gaddafi funding claims
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Nicolas Sarkozy was put in custody this morning as part of a police investigation into allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal financing during his 2007 presidential campaign from the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

According to Le Monde, Sarkozy – who has denied wrongdoing since the investigation was launched in 2013 – is being held at the Nanterre police station, west of Paris. He could be detained for up to 48 hours as he answers questions about the funding for his 2007 presidential campaign, in which he defeated the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal. The alleged payments would contravene the maximum funding limit of 21m euros and also breach rules prohibiting foreign financing and requiring the declaration of the source of campaign funds.

Although it is the first time Sarkozy has been officially questioned about his 2007 campaign, the former president is scheduled to stand trial later this year over allegations that his centre-right UMP party falsified accounts in order to hide an €18m (£15m) overspend during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign, what is known as the Bygmalion Scandal.

The Gaddafi investigation began gathering pace in 2016 when the French online investigative website Mediapart quoted the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine describing how, in late 2006 and early 2007, he delivered suitcases on three occasions from Libya containing five million euros in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Gueant. It's not the first time Takieddine has been implicated in shady dealings, with allegations that he provided illegal funds for Edouard Balladur during his 1995 presidential election campaign.

Gueant, already convicted on separate charges of misappropriation of public funds, is under official investigation for his role in the funding.

The net has been tightening around Sarkozy since the arrest in January of Alexandre Djouhri, a French businessman who was detained by the Metropolitan police at Heathrow airport on a European arrest warrant issued by France.

French investigators are now seeking Djouhri's extradition (he denies any wrongdoing and his extradition hearing is in April) because they want to question him about the funding for Sarkozy's campaign. In particular, they want to know more about a property deal in 2008 in which the Gaddafi family allegedly paid €10m (£8.8m) for a run-down villa in south-east France. It is alleged Djouhri owned the property, which was worth close to €4.5m (£4m), and investigators suspect the profit made on the sale made its way into Sarkozy's campaign fund.

The trail is a tortuous one, and Sarkozy's detention is what Le Monde describes as "only the latest episode in a saga where political, economic and diplomatic interests are intertwined".