PARIS — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants authorities to drop an investigation into alleged illegal financing of his 2007 campaign by the regime of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, after a central accuser backtracked on claims that he had handed Sarkozy’s team suitcases of Libyan cash.
Sarkozy, who denies wrongdoing, has been given preliminary corruption charges in the case, under investigation since 2013.
The probe gained traction when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told news site Mediapart in 2016 that he had delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros ($6.2 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff.
On Wednesday, Takieddine reversed course, telling BFM television from Lebanon: “It’s not true. Mr. Sarkozy did not receive financing ... there was no financing of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign.”
Sarkozy released a statement late Wednesday on social networks saying: “The truth is emerging at last ... he never gave me money, there was never illegal financing of my 2007 campaign.”
Sarkozy said he would ask investigators to drop the charges against him, and sue Takieddine for defamation.
Investigators are examining claims that Gadhafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros overall for his winning 2007 French campaign. The sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time, 21 million euros, and would violate French rules against foreign campaign financing.
Sarkozy’s relationship with Gadhafi was complicated. In 2007, Sarkozy welcomed Gadhafi to France with high honors. Sarkozy then put France at the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes that helped rebel fighters topple Gadhafi’s regime in 2011.
Sarkozy and Takieddine have faced other legal troubles in France. The former president faces trial later this month in an unrelated corruption case.