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.


Armenian leader resigns, says to protesters: ‘I was wrong’

Updated 1 min 20 sec ago
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Armenian leader resigns, says to protesters: ‘I was wrong’

  • Armenians have poured out into the streets in protest over Sargsyan's apparent attempt to perpetuate himself in power
  • Former Prime Minister Karen Karapetian was named acting premier and opposition leader Nikol Pashinian was released from detention

YEREVAN: Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned unexpectedly Monday to quell massive anti-government protests over what critics feared was his effort to seize power for life.
Residents of the capital, Yerevan, poured out on the streets to celebrate his stunning departure. People hugged and kissed each other, and motorists honked their horns.
Protest leader “Nikol Pashinian was right. I was wrong,” Sargsyan, a former Armenian president, said in a surprise announcement on his website. “The movement on the streets is against my rule. I’m complying with their demands.”
The move plunges the Caucasian Mountains country into uncertainty after 10 days of protests against Sargsyan’s appointment as prime minister.
The appointment was part of a transition to a new governmental system that reduces the powers of the presidency and bolsters those of the premier. Critics saw that as an attempt by 63-year-old Sargsyan, who served as president from 2008 until term limits forced him out in March, to stay in power indefinitely.
It echoes similar tenure-lengthening maneuvers by Russian President Vladimir Putin — Armenia’s closest ally. Leaders of other former Soviet republics from Belarus to Central Asia have also engineered themselves lifetime jobs.
The streets of Yerevan have turned into masses of human anger since anti-government protesters began rallying on April 13, blocking government buildings and facing off with police. Sunday’s rally attracted some 50,000 demonstrators.
Pashinian, the protest leader, was arrested on Sunday after he met the prime minister for talks. Sargsyan abruptly ended the meeting when Pashinian refused to discuss anything besides the prime minister’s resignation. The protest leader was released from custody Monday afternoon.
Sargsyan said Monday that he should not have resisted the demands of the opposition.
Opposition leaders have not yet commented on Sargsyan’s resignation and have called a rally in central Yerevan for Monday evening.
The Armenian government quickly named former Prime Minister Karen Karapetian as acting premier. A Sargsyan ally, Karapetian also served as mayor of Yerevan and worked in Russia for five years as a senior executive of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.
Alexander Iskanderian, director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, told The Associated Press that the protests drove Sargsyan into a corner:
“The protests in the past couple of days have swelled to a point that you either had to use violence or find another way out,” Iskanderian said.
Russian officials and state television have been cautious in commenting on the unrest in Armenia. In the past, Moscow decried anti-government rallies in neighboring post-Soviet nations as example of hostile Western interference.
In what appeared to be the first official Russian reaction to the resignation of the Armenian premier, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova lauded Sargsyan’s decision as a move to unify the nation.
“The people who have the strength to keep respect toward each other despite crucial differences and stay united even in the most difficult moments of its history is a great people,” Zakharova wrote on her Facebook account. “Armenia, Russia is always with you!“
When Sargsyan switched to the prime minister’s job, ally Armen Sarkisian, a former prime minister and ambassador to Britain, was elected president in Sargsyan’s place. Sarkisian was seen as an unofficial Sargsyan appointee.