The former French President is accused of receiving money for his presidential campaigns from the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But the claims go further to say the 2011 Libya military operation was initiated to undermine the alleged ties.

On Wednesday, March 21, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation for corruption; for misuse of Libyan public funds in allegedly accepting money from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, to help finance his 2007 presidential election campaign.

Investigators are examining claims that Gaddafi's repressive regime secretly gave Sarkozy $61.7 million - a sum that is more than double the campaign funding limit of $25.9 million, the legal limit at the time (presently increased to $27.1 million).

These alleged payments also would have violated France’s rules against acceptance of foreign financing for presidential elections. They would have failed to meet French strictures requiring a clear declaration of the source of all campaign funds.

Sarkozy, who served as France’s President from 2007-2012, faces his second judicial investigation.

His first investigation was a trial on separate charges of illicit spending overruns during his failed re-election campaign of 2012. 

French media reports that Sarkozy tried to bribe the judge in the first case against him. No judgement has been issued on these financial and legal shenanigans, so the first case remains open.

As for the second case, comprising even more serious allegations of having accepted money for the campaign from the late Colonel Gaddafi, Sarkozy’s case has now reached a turning-point from a legal perspective, as he has been taken into police custody (or ‘garde à vue’).

Indeed, it is the first time that the former president has appeared before an investigating judge while being held in police custody, since the opening of the case in April 2013.

Nicolas Sarkozy has denied, and continues to deny, all accusations that have been levelled against him.

Follow the money

In April 2012, the French website Mediapart published an interview with a Franco-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who claimed that he had transferred around $6 million from Gaddafi's feared former intelligence head Abdullah Senussi to Sarkozy's campaign chief Claude Gueant.

France opened an inquiry into this case as far back as 2013.

Four years later, in November 2016, Mediapart again published a video interview with Takieddine. 

He said he was given around $6 million  in Tripoli by Gaddafi's intelligence head Senussi on trips to Tripoli in 2006 and 2007. He added that he himself had given the money - in the rather startling form of suitcases stuffed with cash - to both Nicolas Sarkozy and to Claude Gueant (Sarkozy’s former Chief of Staff) on three separate occasions. 

Takieddine claimed that these cash handovers took place in the Interior Ministry, at a time when Sarkozy was the Minister of the Interior.

Takieddine made these accusations when Sarkozy was running in the French presidential election, hoping to become the main candidate of France’s right-wing party Les Republicains (former UMP). However, Sarkozy lost in the first round, coming in third behind Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe.

One should not forget that Francois Fillon’s own presidential campaign was destroyed by corruption allegations, by employing his wife Penelope as a parliamentary aide and getting her a job at a literary review owned by a friend, he also employed two of his children as parliamentary assistants. 

‘Penelope-Gate,’ resulted in Fillon losing the public's confidence and the vote was won by the new and young political incumbent, Emmanuel Macron.

Last week, Mediapart celebrated its tenth anniversary, and the Sarkozy-Libyan affair remains one of its most high-profile and ongoing investigations. The website received a great deal of criticism for breaking this story, most notably from Sarkozy’s supporters, former ministers, and from many other right-wing politicians.

The investigation over Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign is not over yet.

The head of Mediapart, Edwy Plenel (a former-editor-in-chief of France’s prestigious Le Monde newspaper, and a seasoned journalist and writer), revealed a few weeks ago that Nicolas Sarkozy had been financed by Muammar Gaddafi.

Plenel added that this constitutes a massive story, if it was found that a French President - an elected representative - had gone to war against Libya, with the debased aim of having his own financial slate wiped clean.

On Tuesday, various Les Republicains Party members defended Sarkozy, claiming that he was innocent, backing him with an official statement of solidarity on their webpage.

In 2012, after losing the election, Sarkozy announced that he would retire from politics. Instead, he came back as leader of the UMP Party; renamed it, and managed to reunite what was then a highly-divided organization.

A few months after he took office in 2007, he became the first western leader in decades to host an official visit by Gaddafi, who was allowed to pitch his "Bedouin" tent in the Marigny Gardens immediately opposite the Elysee Palace.

Several hefty business deals were signed on that occasion, including the sale of French military aircrafts to Libya.

However, things started to change in 2011, when Sarkozy was leading the push for a NATO military campaign. This would culminate in Gaddafi's overthrow, and his eventual killing at the hands of rebel forces later that year, which brings up the question asked by Plenel: whether Sarkozy wanted to eliminate any evidence of his illegal cooperation with the Libyan dictator.

French Justice

In France, progress on the list of ‘affairs’ in which former President Sarkozy is embroiled in, is very slow-moving and even corrupt at times.

Notwithstanding, Sarkozy is significantly implicated in two cases. He also stands accused of having allegedly put pressure on a judge to stop him from revealing details of yet another case.

However, he is fortunate he's being investigated in France, as the French justice system is plagued by extremely long-winded, complicated, and even tortuous processes.

Police first raided his home within days of his losing presidential immunity from prosecution in 2012 - but the wheels of justice in France turn incredibly slowly.

Apart from speed, one reason why the French justice system has not been tough enough in this particular case, is because France is forever in the habit of protecting its former presidents, and French taxpayers have not really pressed for radical change.

Former President Jacques Chirac, for example, still keeps a wide range of benefits - including a very generous pension; personal security, and a lifetime membership of France’s Constitutional Council. He continues to cost the French taxpayer more than a $1.2 million a year, while the bill for Nicolas Sarkozy stands at almost $2.5 million.

At some point, no doubt, judges will be compelled to ask Sarkozy why he participated in the attack on Libya, and what his personal motivation was in helping to depose his erstwhile friend and alleged paymaster Gaddafi.

Even though former presidents enjoy privileges, Nicolas Sarkozy is now being treated like an ordinary French citizen, as his country now believes he no longer deserves the protection usually afforded to former heads of state.

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