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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Sarkozy probe businessman faces 2019 extradition battle

French-Algerian fixer Alexandre Djouhri is wanted by France over allegations of money laundering and fraud

Alexandre Djouhri reporting to a police station shortly after he was arrested in January. AFP
Alexandre Djouhri reporting to a police station shortly after he was arrested in January. AFP

A businessman wanted in France over claims that Libya secretly bankrolled Nicolas Sarkozy’s run for the presidency faces an extradition battle next year after suffering serious health problems.

French investigators want to speak with Alexandre Djouhri about claims that the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi secretly bankrolled Mr Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

Mr Djouhri, who is currently on bail in London, signalled that he was prepared to speak to French investigators about the sprawling illicit finance inquiry but pulled out of a meeting in October with three days’ notice on health grounds.

French investigators feared they were ‘played’ as the cancellation came only after his lawyers were allowed to see the case file against him as part of the process, a London court was told.

Mr Djouhri, 59, was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport in January after French officials issued an arrest warrant for money laundering and fraud in a case linked to Mr Sarkozy’s campaign funding.

The former president was one of the leading advocates of a Nato-led military campaign that resulted in the Libyan dictator’s overthrow and killing in 2011. Just one of a series of funding scandals to have dogged the one-term French leader, the Libyan bribery case was the most wounding for Mr Sarkozy.

He has said the claims of illegal Libyan funding of his campaign, first aired in 2011, were made in revenge for his backing of the rebels. Mr Sarkozy said the claims were false and cost him his bid for re-election in 2012. A French court ruled last month that the 63-year-old should face trial over separate funding allegations from that campaign.

French prosecutors want to question Mr Djouhri over the 2009 sale of a luxury villa in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund for a suspiciously high price of €10 million. The villa was sold to a fund managed by Qaddafi’s former chief of staff, according to French media reports.

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Details of the aborted meeting emerged on Monday after a judge refused to lift “onerous” bail conditions on Mr Djouhri before the four-day extradition hearing in January.

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

He has been on bail for most of the last 10 months because of his poor health and stays in a £3m flat in the upmarket London district of Chelsea. He collapsed in prison during a brief period of detention and emergency treatment for heart problems.

His extradition hearing had been due to start on Monday but has been delayed until January. Lawyers for Mr Djouhri – who has subject to £2m bail, curfew and limits on his movements – sought on Monday to have the restrictions eased to allow him to see more of his family.

But Ben Watson, representing the French government, successfully opposed the move. He said some restrictions were eased after Mr Djouhri said he was prepared to meet with investigators to discuss the broader criminal investigation.

“Three days before the process was supposed to start, he provided a single page, one-line letter saying he was too unwell to attend,” said Mr Watson. There was a “very real concern” among French investigators that Mr Djouhri might “have played them in order to get access” to his file, he said.

Mark Summers, the lawyer for Mr Djouhri, said the businessman had abided by all his bail conditions and remained open to a meeting with French investigators.