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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Fixer who tried to broker deal between Qatar and Qaddafi arrested in London

North African businessman linked to scandal surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy's 'cash from Gaddafi' arrested at Heathrow 

Alexandre Djouhri, left, seen with France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, centre. AFP/FRANCK FIFE
Alexandre Djouhri, left, seen with France's former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, centre. AFP/FRANCK FIFE

A French-Algerian businessman who is wanted for questioning over his alleged role in former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's financing of Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election bid faces extradition to France after his arrest in London.

A hearing to approve the removal of Alexandre Djouhri under a European arrest warrant is expected within days. The businessman was held at Heathrow Airport on Sunday and remanded in custody.

"The warrant was issued by French authorities for offences of fraud and money laundering," a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said.

Recent weeks have been a rapid descent for Mr Djouhri, who once tried to broker a pact between Qatar and Qaddafi to end the 2011 uprising.

Despite refusing to answer a summons from French magistrates investigating Mr Sarkozy's campaign, Mr Djouhri was reported on Tuesday to have dined with his successor Emmanuel Macron in Algiers in December.

The 58-year-old Swiss resident has been a focus of the inquiry which was opened in 2013 by judges investigating claims by Qaddafi that the Libyans provided funds for Mr Sarkozy's election effort.

The inquiry triggered further investigations into Mr Djouhri's affairs, with the financial prosecutors investigating a €10 million gain from a suspect property sale.

The property was sold to the Libyan African sovereign investment fund controlled by the Qaddafi regime. Bashir Saleh, its former manager fled France to South Africa days after Mr Sarkozy lost his re-election bid in 2012.

In a series of conversations recorded by wiretap, Mr Djouhri can be heard promising to send judges a letter whereby Mr Saleh would deny any Libyan financing of Mr Sarkozy's campaign.

Ziad Takieddine, a Lebanese businessman, alleges that the pair arranged for €50 million to be handed over to Mr Sarkozy and his chief of staff, Claude Guéant in 2007.

Mr Djouhri's Parisian lawyer did not respond to requests for comment from the French press.

Mr Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the claims of vindictive Libyan regime members furious over his participation in the US-led military intervention that ended Qaddafi's 41-year rule.

Investigators also suspect Mr Djouhri of helping Mr Saleh get out of France in 2012 via a private jet headed for Niger. He eventually set up home in South Africa, and has been sought since then.

Known as a "grand fixer" for the French elite in North Africa, Mr Djouhri first came to attention as an intermediary for the French environmental services group Vivendi Environnement. Now known as Veolia, the group often employed Mr Djouhri as it sought deals involving water systems, trash collection and oil.

It was his role as attempted peace maker between Qaddafi and the rebels that were attacking the regime's hold on Tripoli and other strongholds in 2011 that brought him to wider attention.

Working with Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, Mr Djouhri attempted to secure a power sharing plan to stop the civil war.

The initiative would have seen some of Qaddafi's children and henchmen work with rebels after the leader fled into exile. Mr de Villepin confirmed at the time the pair mediated the talks on the Tunisian island of Djerba and tried to involve the United Nations in brokering a pact.

Not only were Qatari officials in the background as sponsor of some of the rebel factions, but Mr de Villepin also sought a role for Venezuelan diplomats as Qaddafi trusted the assurances of exile under Hugo Chavez.

However any putative deal quickly fell apart after the key Libyan interlocuter Omar Abukurah, who had been appointed oil minister by Qaddafi, defected to Tunisia. The assurances on offer in the initiative could not secure support from enough members of the Libyan opposition.

The links between "Monsieur Alexandre" and the French right dated back to the time of Jacques Chirac. He was instrumental in brokering the agreement to free Bulgarian nurses held in Tripoli, which saw Mr Sarkozy's first wife Cecilia fly to the Libyan capital to meet with Qaddafi.

When the centrist Mr Macron visited Algiers last month, Mr Djouhri was on the guest list at a dinner hosted by the French ambassador. Just weeks later however the Algerian authorities reportedly made it known he was no longer welcome. After a brief stint in Geneva, he flew into London were the outstanding French warrant was enforced by police.

Born to an Algerian family in the northern Parisian suburb, Saint Denis, Mr Djouhri assembled his formidable contact book from nothing.

"I see in Djouhri a prince of darkness," said Pierre Pean, his biographer. He presents himself as a businessman, others have described him as intermediary, which he does not like. He left the suburbs and now lives at the top of the state with less than 300 people."

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