Explainer: Everything you need to know about ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s probe

By Shreya Maskara

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under investigation over claims he secured illegal financing for his 2007 election campaign from late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy, who was questioned for two days, was released from police custody on Wednesday.

What is being probed?

Sarkozy, 63, is being investigated for illicit campaign financing, misappropriation of Libyan public funds and for passive corruption.

The French police began to probe in 2013 claims by French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, as well as some former Gaddafi regime officials, that the Libyan leader had provided funds for Sarkozy’s campaign.

In 2016, Takieddine told the French news website Mediapart that he supplied cash totalling $6 million to Sarkozy which had come from Gaddafi.

“I handed three suitcases of Libyan money to [former chief of staff Claude] Guéantand Sarkozy,” said Takieddine.

The allegations date back to 2011 when Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, speaking at the height of the Libyan Civil War, talked about the money Sarkozy “took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign.”

“We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything,” Saif had said in an interview with EuroNews.

What does Sarkozy say?

Sarkozy has denied all allegations of wrongdoing and has said the accusations have made his life “hell” since they first surfaced in 2011.

Sarkozy statement to officials was made public by French newspaper Le Figaro; he reportedly called the charges slanderous.

“I am accused without any physical evidence,” Sarkozy told the magistrates.

The Gaddafi-Sarkozy relationship

Shortly after his election in 2007, Sarkozy invited Gadaffi to visit France despite vocal opposition from his own party members. This marked the first time in decades a western country had hosted the Libyan dictator. During the visit, several deals were signed, including a nuclear cooperation agreement and negotiations for the purchase of military equipment.

However, in 2011, Sarkozy was also the most vocal in announcing his support for the 2011 NATO-led campaign to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. In fact, France was among the first countries to recognise Libya’s Interim Transitional National Council, in response to which Gaddafi’s son accused Sarkozy of acquiring Libyan funds for his campaign.

Previous allegations against Sarkozy

Sarkozy is also facing separate charges of illicit campaign spending overruns during his failed re-election bid in 2012. He denied having any knowledge of dual accounting and the discovery of false invoices issued by the Bygmalion event organisation company.

Additionally, shortly after he lost his bid for re-election in 2012, Sarkozy’s house was raided in order to investigate claims that he had used secret funding from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and that he had tried to influence investigating magistrates. 

In 2014, Sarkozy was also detained over claims that he promised a prestigious role to a high-ranking judge Gilbert Azibert in return for information on the investigation into alleged illegal campaign funding.

What happens next?

Sazkozy is now under formal investigation, which means that judicial authorities have sufficient evidence from the police to start a full inquiry by an investigating magistrate. Following the results of the investigation, the judges can either drop the charges or proceed to a trial.