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French ex-president Sarkozy held in Libya financing probe

He has been questioned by officers specialising in corruption, tax evasion

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It is alleged that Gaddafi (right) financed Mr Sarkozy's (left) 2007 election campaign, including with suitcases stuffed with cash.

Paris

FRENCH ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy was detained for questioning on Tuesday over allegations that late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi financed his 2007 election campaign, including with suitcases stuffed with cash, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.

Mr Sarkozy was taken into police custody early on Tuesday morning and was questioned by officers specialising in corruption, money laundering and tax evasion at their office in the western Parisian suburb of Nanterre.

The 63-year-old had until now refused to respond to a summons for questioning in France's most explosive political financing scandal, one of several legal probes that have dogged the right-winger since he left office after one term in 2012.

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Mr Sarkozy's detention was first reported by the Mediapart investigative news site and French daily Le Monde.

AFP's source said that Brice Hortefeux, a close ally who served as a senior minister during Mr Sarkozy's presidency, was also questioned Tuesday as part of the inquiry.

Since 2013, investigating magistrates have been probing media reports, as well as statements by Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam, which claimed that funds were provided for Mr Sarkozy's first tilt at the presidency.

"Mr Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign," Mr Seif told the Euronews network in 2011 as Nato-backed forces were driving his father out of power.

Mr Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Libyan regime members who were furious over France's military intervention in Libya that helped end Gaddafi's 41-year rule and led to his death.

He has also sued Mediapart, which has driven media coverage of the Libyan allegations since 2012 when it published a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Gaddafi had agreed to fund Mr Sarkozy to the tune of 50 million euros (S$81.03 million).

The case drew heightened scrutiny in November 2016 when a Franco-Lebanese businessman admitted delivering three cash-stuffed suitcases from the Libyan leader in 2006 and 2007 as contributions towards Mr Sarkozy's first presidential run.

In an interview, again with Mediapart, Ziad Takieddine claimed that he dropped 1.5 to 2 million euros in 200-euro and 500-euro notes each time and was given the money by Gaddafi's military intelligence chief Abdallah Senussi.

When asked about the allegations during a televised debate in 2016, Mr Sarkozy called the question "disgraceful" and said that the businessman was a "liar" who had been convicted "countless times for defamation".

The legal investigation is looking into these allegations, as well as a 500,000 euro foreign cash transfer to Mr Sarkozy's ally Claude Gueant, and the sale of a luxury villa in 2009 in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund for an allegedly inflated price.

Mr Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant father who takes a hard line on Islam and French identity, was nicknamed the "bling-bling" president during his time in office for his flashy displays of wealth.

He failed with a bid to run again for president in November 2016 and has stepped back from frontline politics since then, though he remains a powerful figure behind the scenes at the rightwing Republicans party.

Seven months after his 2007 presidential victory, Mr Sarkozy invited Gaddafi to Paris and clinched major arms and nuclear energy sales to the oil-rich north African country, which has since descended into civil war.

It is not the first time that Mr Sarkozy has been detained: he became the first French president to enter police custody in July 2014 over a separate inquiry into claims that he tried to interfere in one of the several investigations targeting him. AFP