Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that ‘lies’ about tens of millions of euros he allegedly received from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi resulted in him losing his 2012 bid for re-election, according to French media reports.
Mr Sarkozy’s claims emerged after he was charged with corruption and illegal campaign financing following a long-running inquiry into alleged Libyan backing for his successful run for the presidency in 2007.
The allegations were first made in March 2011, when the son of the Libyan dictator, Saif Al Islam, demanded the return of Libyan money that he claimed was used to bankroll Mr Sarkozy’s campaign.
“This calumny has made my life a living hell” since 2011, said Mr Sarkozy, 63, in what Le Figaro newspaper said was a declaration to investigators.
“I've paid a heavy price for this affair,” said the former one-term president. “Put it this way: I lost the presidential election of 2012 by 1.5 percentage points. The controversy initiated by Qaddafi and his henchmen cost me that 1.5 percent”.
Mr Sarkozy was held and questioned for two days this week following claims by a Lebanese businessman that he personally handed over three suitcases of money holding five million euros to Mr Sarkozy and a senior aide. Mr Sarkozy called him a “middleman in the shadows” and accused him of lying.
The charges, which are the most serious out of the myriad investigations that have dogged him since he left office in 2012. If found guilty, he faces up to ten years in jail.
Months after he took office, Mr Sarkozy was criticised for hosting a state visit by Qaddafi, which was accompanied by the signing of several business deals. His visit was notable for being allowed to pitch his Bedouin tent close to the Elysee Palace.
Mr Sarkozy was later one of the chief advocates of a Nato-led military campaign that resulted in Qaddafi’s overthrown and killing at the hands of rebel forces in 2011.
Angered at the role of Mr Sarkozy in backing the rebels, Qaddafi’s son Saif Al Islam in 2011 described Mr Sarkozy as a “clown” and spoke for the first time about the campaign funds.
He will have six months to appeal the charges, which is he is likely to do, and the judges will have to make a further decision about whether they have sufficient proof to take the case to trial.