French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy blasted what he said was a lack of evidence for corruption charges against him over claims the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi funded his 2007 election campaign, in his court statement published Thursday.
The day after he was charged in France’s most explosive political scandals in decades, the 63-year-old rightwinger said in the statement published by the Figaro newspaper that he had been in “living hell” since the allegations emerged in 2011.
Demanding he be treated as a witness rather than a suspect, he urged magistrates to consider “the violence of the injustice” if it was proven, as he claims, that the accusations are a “manipulation by the dictator Gaddafi or his gang”.
“In the 24 hours of my detention I have tried with all my might to show that the serious corroborating evidence required to charge someone did not exist,” Sarkozy said.
“I stand accused without any tangible evidence through comments made by Mr Gaddafi, his son, his nephew, his cousin, his spokesman, his former prime minister,” he added, ahead of a television interview on Thursday night.
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Gaddafi – whom he helped to topple in 2011 – are the most serious out of myriad investigations dogging him since he left office in 2012.
Judges decided they had enough evidence to charge the combative one-term president Wednesday after five years of investigation and two days of questioning in police custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.
Sarkozy, who served as president from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money, a judiciary source said.
“I’ve been living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the allegations first emerged, Sarkozy said.
He will have six months to appeal the charges, and judges will have to make a further decision about whether they have sufficient proof to take the case to trial.
Suitcases of cash?
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Gaddafi’s ousted regime, including his son Seif al-Islam, that Sarkozy’s campaign received cash from the dictator.
A few months after his 2007 election Sarkozy gave Gaddafi the red-carpet treatment during a state visit which critics denounced as an attempt to rehabilitate an international pariah long accused of human rights abuses.
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were driving Gaddafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
The revelations came as Sarkozy was trying to win re-election, but he ultimately lost the 2012 race to Socialist Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Gaddafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
He has also sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya’s intelligence chief showing that Gaddafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to €50 million ($62 million).
In his court statement Sarkozy lashed out at Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, who claims to have delivered three cash-stuffed suitcases from Gaddafi in 2006 and 2007, when Sarkozy was preparing his first run for president.
Takieddine, who claimed he provided a total of €5 million in three suitcases to Sarkozy and his then chief of staff Claude Gueant, has “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”, Sarkozy said.
“I would like to remind you that he has no proof of any meeting with me during this period 2005-2011.”
Takieddine, after Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday night, had retorted: “I’m not the liar here.”
The legal investigation is also looking into a €500,000 foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy’s former Interior Minister Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
First ex-president in custody
In 2014 Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption – his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.
Sarkozy has stepped back from frontline politics since his failed re-election bid, but he still holds considerable influence with his rightwing Republicans party.
The party has so far backed him publicly.
“Being charged does not necessarily mean you are guilty,” said Republicans leader Laurent Wauquiez.