Businessman loses extradition fight over secret Libyan backing for Sarkozy

Alexandre Djouhri is wanted in France over claims he funnelled Libyan cash to election fight

French-Algerian businessman Alexandre Djouhri arrives at Westminster Magistrates court in central London on February 26, 2019 to attend an extradition hearing. Djouhri was arrested in London in connection with the investigation into alleged illegal Libyan financing of Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 French presidential election campaign and French police are seeking to extradite the French-Algerian businessman to answer questions related to the inquiry. / AFP / Niklas HALLE'N
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A British court on Tuesday ordered the extradition to France of a businessman wanted over claims that the Qaddafi family secretly bankrolled Nicolas Sarkozy’s run for the presidency in 2007.

Alexandre Djouhri, 60, said that he would appeal against the order to return France to stand trial for alleged fraud, money laundering and bribery and would remain in the UK for months until the conclusion of the hearing.

France launched an inquiry after media reports that the Qaddafi family paid €50 million euros to help Mr Sarkozy fight his successful 2007 presidential election campaign in contravention of French election laws.

Mr Djouhri, a French-Algerian national, is accused of selling a villa in the south of France for a vastly inflated price of €10m to officials connected to the Libyan regime through a sovereign wealth fund based in Switzerland, the Libyan African Portfolio (LAP).

Mr Djouhri then allegedly funnelled €500,000 of the proceeds of the sale of Villa Nabila, in Mougins, France in 2008, into an account held by Mr Sarkozy’s then chief of staff, Claude Gueant.

Mr Djouhri rose to prominence after acting as an attempted peacemaker between Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and the rebels attacking the regime’s hold on Tripoli.

He was seen as a key ally of Mr Sarkozy and a go-between with the Libyan regime, according to his legal team.

But relations between the French government rapidly turned sour and Mr Sarkozy became one of the leading advocates of a Nato-led military campaign that resulted in the Libyan dictator’s overthrow and killing in 2011.

In March 2011, Qaddafi’s son, Saif Al Islam, told Euronews that Mr Sarkozy had to give back the money he accepted from Libya to finance his electoral campaign.

“We financed his campaign and we have the proof,” he said. “The first thing we’re demanding is that this clown gives back the money to the Libyan people.”

The French media has published a note from 2006 purportedly from the head of the Libyan foreign intelligence services to the head of the LAP approving the 50 million euros financial support.

Mr Sarkozy was arrested and held for questioning last year by the French authorities over allegations of illegal campaign funding, bribery and misappropriating Libyan funds.

The former president has said the claims of illegal Libyan funding of his campaign were made in revenge for his backing of the rebels.

He has denied any wrongdoing and claims the alleged plot came to light to sabotage his run for re-election in 2012. He lost that election to Francois Hollande.

French investigators claim that Mr Djouhri paid the €500,000 to Mr Gueant to secure a commission on the sale of Airbus aircraft to state-owned Libyan airline Afriqiyah Airways and to avoid tax liabilities from the villa sale.

There was no direct evidence linking the proceeds from the villa sale to the election funding scandal, lawyers for the French government told a London court last month.

Mr Gueant claims that the money he received was the proceeds from the sale of two paintings and had nothing to do with Mr Djouhri.

Mr Djouhri, a Swiss resident, had been living in Geneva out of reach of French investigators and had declined opportunities to speak with investigators. But he was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport in January last year on a French-issued arrest warrant.

He has vigorously fought the extradition and claimed that he was a victim of a political witch-hunt against supporters of Mr Sarkozy.

He also cited his poor health after collapsing in a British prison with serious heart problems that required emergency medical treatment.

A district judge rejected his claims and said he should be extradited to France. “I am satisfied that there is no or insufficient evidence that the French authorities have manipulated or used procedures to oppress or unfairly prejudice Mr Djouhri,” said Vanessa Baraitser in her ruling.

Mr Djouhri vowed to continue fighting his extradition and will remain on bail with his movements restricted from his £3m flat in the upmarket London district of Chelsea.

“I don’t see what they are accusing me of,” he told reporters. “They don’t have money to fight terrorism but they arrived at my place [in Switzerland] with 73 policemen in 35 cars… They didn’t find anything.”