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Just days before a crucial French presidential primary, former President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing fresh allegations that he received millions of euros in illegal campaign financing from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
An investigation into the case, involving funding for Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential campaign, has been underway since 2013.
In a video interview with the investigative website Mediapart released Tuesday, a French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, said he delivered three suitcases from Libya, containing 5 million euros in cash, to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff and campaign director, Claude Guéant.
Takieddine said he had given a written deposition to judges on November 12 detailing three cash handovers between 2006 and 2007 and his meetings with Guéant and Sarkozy.
At no point, he says, did he see the two men look inside the cases after he dropped them off at the Interior Ministry, where Sarkozy was minister at the time.
Bad timing for Sarkozy
Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012 and is seeking nomination as the conservative candidate in next year’s presidential vote, has always denied allegations that he took covert funding from Libya.
His entourage did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
Takieddine’s statement came just days before Sunday’s first round of a primary election to pick the centre-right’s candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and risked overshadowing the last days of Sarkozy’s campaign.
Sarkozy is trailing in the polls behind the current favourite, Alain Juppé, who was prime minister from 1995 to 1997 under former President Jacques Chirac, and has been hoping to exploit the momentum of improved ratings since Donald Trump’s election victory in the US last week.
Polls predict that the April-May 2017 elections will be a showdown between far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and the winner of this month’s primaries.
The second round is due to take place on November 27.
In response to the allegations, Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, accused Takieddine of “lacking credibility, as has been repeatedly demonstrated”.
Herzog also accused Mediapart of attempting to “tarnish” Sarkozy ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting.
“Mr. Sarkozy formally denies these accusations,” Herzog said in a statement, adding that Sarkozy will launch legal action against what he called “this grotesque manipulation.”
Guéant’s lawyer, Philippe Bouchez El Ghozi, also denied the claims that his client was involved.
“Claude Guéant’s has always been very clear. He never received from near or far or heard about a centime of money from Libya to support Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign. He has repeated this multiple times to the judicial authorities,” he told Reuters.
Libyan officials from the Gaddafi era have previously claimed they helped finance Sarkozy’s election campaign.
Sarkozy also has other legal headaches. In September, France’s state prosecutor said he should stand trial over funding irregularities linked to his failed 2012 re-election bid. A magistrate is due to rule whether he does or not later this month.
“Why and how can a guy like this stand for presidency of the Republic? The French people must react. It will explode,” Takieddine told Mediapart.