Prosecutors charged former French President Nicolas Sarkozy with accepting illegal campaign contributions from Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya before the 2007 French election, according to a person in a Paris prosecutor’s office familiar with the matter.
Sarkozy was charged after having been in police custody since Tuesday morning for questioning by a special financial crimes unit, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the process is confidential. Sarkozy has denied the allegations. In France’s criminal justice system, charges are brought during an investigation, before a decision is made on whether the matter will go to trial.
The 63-year-old isn’t the first former French president to be caught up in legal troubles, though his case is probably the most serious. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was found guilty in 2011 of offering false jobs for party members while mayor of Paris. He was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Sarkozy has been the target of several criminal investigations since he left office in 2012. In 2014 he was charged with influence-peddling for alleged efforts to have judges keep him informed about the state of play in some of the probes. An investigative judge decided in February 2017 to send him to trial on charges that he used false receipts to illegally exceed campaign-spending limits in his failed 2012 re-election bid. Both cases are still pending.
Investigative judges began tapping Sarkozy’s phone in 2013 as part of the investigation into whether he received funds from Qaddafi’s regime. That surveillance led to the influence-peddling charges. This week was the first time Sarkozy had been questioned in the Libyan case, much of which relies on claims by former members or associates of Qaddafi, who was killed in 2011 by France-backed rebels.
His office didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment.
Sarkozy placed a distant third in 2016 in the primary to be the candidate of the center-right Republicans, after which he said he was quitting politics. He’d previously said he’d quit politics after failing to win re-election in 2012, only to return in time for his failed 2016 bid.
He’s remained active behind the scenes as his party looks to rebuild after failing to make the second round of the subsequent 2017 presidential elections. He also speaks occasionally to President Emmanuel Macron, according to French press reports.
Segolene Royal, the Socialist politician who lost to Sarkozy in 2007, said Wednesday on Twitter before the charges were announced that “justice is making progress.” Citizens have a right to know whether the election “was a fair competition,” she said.