Lebanese-French businessman Ziad Takieddine was questioned by French judges in Beirut on Thursday over retracted claims he made alleging illegal Libyan financing for former French president Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 electoral campaign in France.
Mr Takieddine, currently detained in Lebanon, made the accusations in 2016 but retracted them in November 2020 in an interview with French magazine Paris Match and television station BFMTV.
A Lebanese judicial source told The National that four French judges – two financial prosecutors and two investigative judges – and Lebanon’s Cassation Prosecutor, Imad Kabalan, interrogated Mr Takieddine as a witness.
The questioning took place within the framework of a French request for judicial co-operation. Mr Takieddine co-operated willingly and answered questions without a lawyer, said the source. The hearing was continuing on Thursday afternoon and it remained unclear whether a second session would be scheduled for Friday.
French judges previously interrogated Mr Takieddine in Beirut in January over the same case.
Mr Takieddine originally told French investigative news website Mediapart in 2016 that he had delivered several suitcases carrying a total of €5 million ($5.7m) in cash from deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi to Sarkozy in 2006 and 2007.
Sarkozy rejects accusations of corruption. A Paris court sentenced him in September to a year in prison for illegally funding his later unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign but allowed him to serve his sentence at home.
Mr Takieddine was arrested in Beirut on April 8 for financial fraud, forgery and death threats, a police source said. It was not immediately clear who had filed the complaints against Mr Takieddine. He had previously been briefly arrested twice in Lebanon in September and December 2020 after financial disputes with Lebanese lawyers. Lebanese authorities issued a travel ban against him in December.
In a separate case, a French court sentenced Mr Takieddine to five years in prison on June 15, 2020 for a corruption case involving French politician Edouard Balladur. Media reports said the sentence was delivered in his absence and an arrest warrant was issued against him.
Mr Takieddine told Paris Match last year that he left France for Lebanon two days before the sentencing, travelling through Italy and Greece. He is originally from the Druze town of Baakline, 45 kilometres south-east of Beirut.
One of the two judicial sources said Mr Takieddine was also the subject of a European arrest warrant from Interpol.
Neither Interpol nor the French embassy in Beirut were immediately available for comment.
Lebanon does not extradite its own citizens.
*This story has been updated to reflect that the date of Mr Takieddine's arrest on June 15 in fact took place on April 8.