Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy charged with 'criminal association' in Libyan campaign financing

Charges relate to his 2007 election campaign

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on October 18, 2016, former French President and then candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party primaries ahead of the 2017 presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy, poses during a studio photo session in Paris. French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy has been indicted for "criminal association" over the Libyan campaign financing, prosecutors announced on October 16, 2020. / AFP / JOEL SAGET
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Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with criminal association over suspected Libyan financing of his 2007 election campaign.

Mr Sarkozy left office in 2012 but has been dogged by the campaign finance scandal since his departure.

The charge for "membership in a criminal conspiracy" was brought on Monday, and adds to charges in 2018 of "passive corruption", "benefitting from embezzled public funds" and "illegal campaign financing" against Mr Sarkozy, prosecutors said today.

The latest charge, which can be appealed under French law, came after prosecutors interviewed Mr Sarkozy for more than 40 hours over four days.

Prosecutors suspect the former president and his associates received millions of euros from the regime of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi to help finance his election bid.

Mr Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, said on his Facebook page that his "innocence had been tarnished" by the charges, without "even the slightest proof".

He said that during the questioning "I answered every question I was asked without ever being put in difficulty."

Last month, a Paris appeals court threw out Sarkozy's bid to have the investigation dismissed, making a trial more likely.

Sarkozy, 65, denies the charges that were sparked by investigative website Mediapart in 2012, when it published a document purporting to show that Qaddafi agreed to give the French politician up to €50 million ($58.6 million).

In his defence Mr Sarkozy - who is himself a trained lawyer - has claimed presidential immunity, and said there is no legal basis in France for prosecuting someone for misusing funds from a foreign country.

Judges are also investigating claims by a French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he delivered suitcases carrying a total of €5 million ($5.8 million) from the Libyan regime to Mr Sarkozy's chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.

Shortly after his election, the former president controversially invited Qaddafi to Paris for a state visit.

However, he also put France at the forefront of NATO-led air strikes against Qaddafi's troops, leading to the dictator's downfall in 2011.

Mr Sarkozy said after being charged in 2018 that for him "politics is finished".

In June, Mr Sarkozy released a book charting his rise to power, sidestepping the corruption allegations that have dogged his post-presidential life.