Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was handed preliminary charges Tuesday over allegations he accepted millions of euros in illegal campaign funding from the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
A judicial official told The Associated Press that investigative judges overseeing the probe gave the ex-president charges of illegally funding his 2007 winning campaign, passive corruption and receiving money from Libyan embezzlement. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The charges came after Sarkozy was detained for two days of questioning by anticorruption police at a station in Nanterre, northwest of the French capital.
Sarkozy, 63, who was France’s president from 2007-12, has repeatedly and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
An investigation involving funding for his winning 2007 presidential campaign first was launched in 2013. Investigators are examining claims that Gadhafi’s regime secretly gave the politician €50 million overall for his campaign.
The sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time — €21 million. In addition, the alleged payments would violate French rules against foreign financing and requiring that the source of campaign funds be declared.
His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Sarkozy’s former top aide, the ex-minister Brice Hortefeux, was also questioned Tuesday, but not detained. He said on Twitter that the details he gave investigators “should help put an end to a series of mistakes and lies.”
The investigation got a boost when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the online investigative site Mediapart in 2016 that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing €5 million in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff, Claude Gueant.
Takieddine repeated his allegations during a live interview with France’s BFM TV on Wednesday night.
He claimed he personally handed a suitcase containing €2 million in cash to Sarkozy at the then-candidate’s apartment and another suitcase with €1.5 million to Sarkozy and a close aide at the French Interior Ministry. Sarkozy was interior minister at the time.
Takieddine alleged he gave a third suitcase with €1.5 million in cash to the aide alone. He said the money was not meant to finance Sarkozy’s presidential campaign in 2007, but to honour contracts between France and Libya.
“He’s a real liar,” Takieddine said of Sarkozy.
Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gadhafi. Soon after winning the French presidency, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader for a state visit and welcomed him to France with high honours.
But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gadhafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.