x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sarkozy says Socialist opponents are using Qaddafi links as a distraction

The French president dismisses reports that the deposed Libyan leader sought to fund his 2007 election campaign, saying it is a ploy to distract the weakness of their candidate in next weekend's presidential election.

PARIS // Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, dismissed a report that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sought to fund his 2007 campaign as a ploy by opponents to distract from the weakness of their candidate in next weekend's presidential election.

A week ahead of the decisive second round vote on May 6, investigative website Mediapart said it had uncovered a document from Libya's former secret services showing that Qaddafi's government had decided to finance Mr Sarkozy's run at the presidency when he was interior minister.

Mr Sarkozy, whose government had played a key role in the ouster of Qaddafi last year, has repeatedly denied receiving any money from the former Libyan leader, who was captured and killed by fighters from the Libyan National Liberation Army last year.

Mr Sarkozy said in a newspaper interview that the Socialists were using the report as an attempt to avert scrutiny of their presidential candidate, Francois Hollande, who leads in opinion polls by around 10 percentage points.

"You see that this is an attempt to create a distraction ... which will backfire on the Socialists," Mr Sarkozy told Le Parisien-Dimanche newspaper. "They don't want anyone to remember they want to make him [Hollande] the next president of the French republic."

He compared it to allegations made by former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in London's Guardian newspaper on Friday that operatives linked to Mr Sarkozy had torpedoed his presidential bid last May by ensuring his sexual encounter with a New York hotel maid was made public.

Mediapart, staffed by a number of veteran French newspaper and news agency journalists, said it had a 2006 document signed by Qaddafi's former intelligence chief Moussa Koussa which stated his government would pay 50 million euros for Sarkozy's campaign.

Later on Sunday, in an interview on Canal+ television, Mr Sarkozy said the document was a "fabrication".

"It's a disgrace. It's a fabrication," he said. "Mediapart is a habitual liar ... It is an office in the service of the left."

"Who led the coalition to topple Gaddafi? It was France! I was perhaps the leader. Do you think that if Gaddafi had anything on me I would have tried to oust him?"

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the document was "false, or at least impossible to verify, which comes from a dictatorship which France helped to topple".

"It is a calumny, an absurdity," he told Europe 1 radio, adding that it was ridiculous to talk of 50 million euros to finance a campaign that cost 20 million and for which accounts were publicly available.

The Mediapart website, which gained prominence in 2010 when it broke news of a major political funding scandal around Mr Sarkozy's UMP party and L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, called for an official investigation.

Mr Hollande's spokesman, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the government should provide "explanation".

Having earlier denied it, Mr Sarkozy acknowledged on Wednesday that his government had considered co-operation with Libya in civil nuclear energy.

He raised eyebrows when he invited Qaddafi to Paris in 2007 - letting him pitch his Bedouin-style tent by the Elysee Palace - following the freeing of five Bulgarian nurses detained in a Libyan jail, largely at the French president's personal intervention.