French journalists claim Gaddafi promised Sarkozy campaign €50 million

Monday, April 30, 2012

French news website Mediapart has published a document it says shows the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pledged French President Nicolas Sarkozy 50 million (£42 million) to fund his 2007 election campaign.

Sarkozy, who gained power in that election, is now fighting a reelection bid but lagging behind socialist opposition leader Francois Hollande in opinion polls. A run-off election is scheduled for May 6.

Sarkozy and Gaddafi are among the world leaders seen here at the G8 summit in 2009.

Had the deal gone ahead it would have breached French law, which bans political donations of such magnitude. Although the Arabic document, apparently signed by Libya's then-foreign intelligence head Mussa Kussa, dates to 2006 and does not indicate any cash was actually handed over, some reports claim money was laundered via Panama and Switzerland.

Sarkozy spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said the claims were "ridiculous" and invented by Hollande supporters. She said Sarkozy's election finances were vetted at the time. Hollande spokesman Bernard Cazeneuve said Sarkozy must now "explain himself to the French in the face of such serious elements backed up by new documents emanating from the entourage of the Libyan dictator himself."

It is not the first time such allegations have been made. As France backed an uprising which ultimately toppled Gaddafi, the Libyan ruler's son Seif al-Islam last year made the same claim. Mediapart in March published allegations from a doctor who used to treat a local arms dealer, who said his patient had organised such a donation. Sarkozy himself said the suggestion was "grotesque".

The newly-released document states as present Libya's head of African investment, Bashir Saleh; Sarkozy ally Brice Hortefeux; Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi; and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine. It is dated October 6, 2006 and discusses an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to €50 million."

Hortefeux has denied ever meeting Kussa or Saleh.

Mediapart is a respected left-wing investigative website. It is generally viewed as opposing Sarkozy's right-wing regime. It claims money was laundered via accounts including one in the name of Sarkozy's political party's head's sister, and says governmental briefing notes indicate regular funding trips to and from Libya. Mediapart says its sources are "former senior officials now in hiding."

When al-Islam first made his claims, he said "Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything." Sarkozy was dismissive when interviewed this year on TF1, saying "I am sorry to see you in the role of a spokeswoman for Gaddafi’s son, frankly I've known you in better roles... I am sorry that I am being interrogated about declarations of Gaddafi or his son on an important channel like TF1. When one quotes Mr Gaddafi, who is dead, his son, who has blood on his hands, that is a regime of dictators, assassins, whose credibility is zero... frankly, I think we have sunk low enough in the political debate."

An investigation is already ongoing into Takieddine. Takieddine is accused of illegally financing Edouard Balladur in an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1995. Sarkozy, who was spokesman for that campaign, denies wrongdoing in relation to it. It is suspected Balladur received kickback bribes from Pakistan in a submarine sale. Investigators believe eleven French engineers were killed in a bomb attack orchestrated as Pakistani revenge revenge for bribe non-payment.

Kosciusko-Morizet suggests Hollande's supporters arranged the new claims to coincide with allegations made by former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn fell from favour after a well-publicised sexual encounter with a hotel maid in the US and last week claimed Sarkozy arranged for allegations to be made in order to prevent Strauss-Kahn running against him for president.

"If he had financed it, I wasn’t very grateful," Sarkozy said previously about the allegations. France played an active role in Gaddafi's downfall last year, providing military support to a NATO mission against the Libyan ruler.