Ex-French president Sarkozy held on Qaddafi claims

Muammar Qaddafi receives Nicolas Sarkozy in Tripoli in 2007. French investigators are examining claims that Qaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50 million for his 2007 presidential campaign. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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Ex-French president Sarkozy held on Qaddafi claims

PARIS: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was placed in custody on Tuesday as part of an investigation into allegations he received millions of euros in illegal campaign financing from the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
A judicial source with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that Sarkozy was being held at the Nanterre police station, north-west of Paris. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Sarkozy has vehemently and repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the case, which involves funding for his winning 2007 presidential campaign.
Though an investigation has been underway since 2013, the case gained traction some three years later when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the online investigative site, Mediapart, that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing €5 million ($6.2 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Gueant.
A lawyer for Sarkozy, 63, did not immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comment.
Investigators are examining claims that Qaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50 million overall for the 2007 campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time of €21 million. In addition, the alleged payments would violate French rules against foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds.
A former top aide of Sarkozy, former minister Brice Hortefeux, was reportedly questioned on Tuesday but was not detained. Sarkozy can be held up to 48 hours and could be placed under formal investigation after his hearing.
In the Mediapart interview published in November 2016, Takieddine said he was given €5 million in Tripoli by Qaddafi’s intelligence chief on trips in late 2006 and 2007 and that he gave the money in suitcases full of cash to Sarkozy and Gueant on three occasions. He said the handovers took place in the Interior Ministry, while Sarkozy was interior minister.
Takieddine has for years been embroiled in his own problems with French justice, centering mainly on allegations he provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard Balladur for his 1995 presidential election campaign — via commissions from the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.
Takieddine made his accusations at a time when Sarkozy was taking part in the presidential elections’ primary to be the candidate of the right-wing party The Republicans. Sarkozy lost in the first round, ending third behind Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe.
Fillon’s own campaign was destroyed by corruption allegations. The former front-runner in the presidential race was charged over the allegations and he suffered a big loss in a vote won by Emmanuel Macron.
According to Le Monde newspaper, investigators have recently handed to magistrates a report in which they detailed how cash circulated within Sarkozy’s campaign team.
In January, a French businessman suspected of playing a role in the financing scheme, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London on a warrant issued by France “for offenses of fraud and money laundering.” Le Monde said French investigators are also in possession of several documents seized at his home in Switzerland.
Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-12, had a complex relationship with Qaddafi. Soon after becoming the French president, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Qaddafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.
It is not the first time that Sarkozy faced legal troubles. In February 2017, he was ordered to stand trial after being handed preliminary charges for suspected illegal overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign. Sarkozy has appealed the decision.


Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

Updated 11 min 32 sec ago
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Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

  • Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court
  • Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right”

LONDON: Supporters of US President Donald Trump are taking up the cause of an anti-Islam activist jailed in Britain for contempt of court, raising fears of a far-right revival.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court in breach of reporting restrictions around a trial.
Robinson is the founder of the English Defense League (EDL), a fringe group protesting perceived threats from Islamic extremism, and he has a string of convictions on charges including assault, fraud and drugs possession.
The name he uses is that of a well-known football hooligan.
Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right.”
The campaign spread further after Donald Trump Jr, the US president’s son, retweeted a comment about Robinson.
Trump himself drew severe condemnation in November after retweeting three misleading anti-Muslim videos originally posted by Britain First, another far-right group.
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, defended Robinson on London’s LBC radio last week, reportedly describing him off-mic as “the backbone” of Britain.
The new cause celebre of the populist far-right in Britain even breached diplomatic circles after Sam Brownback, Trump’s envoy for international religious freedom, raised the issue with British ambassador Kim Darroch at a June lunch.
But anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said the notion that Robinson had been wrongly imprisoned was “incorrect and conspiratorial,” calling him a “violent far-right racist.”
Times newspaper columnist Francis Eliott warned that the Robinson case, allied with disillusionment over Brexit and fear of immigration, could create “a far-right revival” — all “powered by alt-right cash.”
Two recent pro-Robinson protests in central London, at which some demonstrators made Nazi salutes, saw violent confrontations with police and counter-demonstrators.
US Republican Congressman Paul Gosar came under heavy criticism for speaking at one of the rallies last Saturday during Trump’s visit to Britain.
“It is inexplicable for a sitting US congressman to speak at, let alone attend a rally for someone responsible for spreading as much hate and bigotry as Tommy Robinson, Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
Robinson gained notoriety in Britain after the EDL staged demonstrations in 2013 which often ended in clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators.
He was previously jailed for using someone else’s passport to enter the United States, which had refused him entry because of drug offenses, and has a number of other convictions.
In May, Robinson was arrested outside a court in Leeds in northern England and pleaded guilty to the contempt charge.
He was given 10 months in jail and another three months for breaching a suspended sentence for another contempt charge related to a separate case.
Reporting restrictions are imposed in all court proceedings in Britain, and are intended to avoid media reports that could influence the jury.
Raheem Kassam, a former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London and one-time top aide to leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage, told AFP he was working to “internationalize” Robinson’s cause and organize support rallies.
“When the left see an injustice, it rallies an international caucus of people together... and we don’t do that enough on our side,” he said, adding the shift in tactics was “just the start.”
The US-based Middle East Forum — a right-wing think-tank where Kassam is a fellow — is also helping Robinson “legally, diplomatically and politically,” according to its director Gregg Roman.
It has spent tens of thousands of dollars footing the bills for Robinson’s defense and protests — including Gosar’s trip to London.
A spokesman for Hope Not Hate decried the increasing American interest in the case, describing Robinson as “a lightning rod for an international coterie of far-right, anti-Muslim activists and extremists.”
Noting a “clear plan” by alt-right figures like Bannon “to pressure our authorities to ameliorate his sentence,” he added: “These attempts to sway our legal system and the paths of justice must not prevail.”
Robinson is currently appealing his sentence, with a three-judge panel set to rule by the end of the month.