A leading witness retracted Wednesday allegations that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy took millions in cash from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi for his 2007 election campaign.
French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, had claimed he delivered suitcases carrying a total of five million euros from Tripoli to Sarkozy’s chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
The ex-president jumped on the first reports from BFM TV and Paris Match saying: “The truth is out at last.”
“For seven and a half years, the investigation has not discovered the slightest proof of any illegal financing whatsoever,” he posted on Facebook.
“The chief accuser recognises his lies,” Sarkozy added. “He never gave me money, there was never illegal financing of my capaign in 2007.”
Takieddine, who is in Beirut on the run from French justice in another shady financing affair, put out a video saying the instructing magistrate had twisted his words.
“I am saying loud and clear the magistrate … really wanted to turn it the way he wanted and make me say things which are totally contradictory to what I said,” the 70-year-old said.
“There was no financing of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign,” he added.
Sarkozy announced he would instruct his lawyers to seek to halt the case against him and sue Takieddine for defamation.
French prosecutors last month said they had charged Sarkozy for “membership in a criminal conspiracy” after more than 40 hours of questioning over four days, prosecutors told AFP.
It adds to charges already filed in 2018 of “accepting bribes,” “benefitting from embezzled public funds” and “illegal campaign financing”.
The October charge was seen to increase the chance of a trial for Sarkozy, who was already poised to become the first former French president in the dock on corruption charges.
Prosecutors suspected that Sarkozy and his associates received tens of millions of euros from Kadhafi’s regime to help finance his election bid.
– Litany of legal woes –
Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has always denied wrongdoing.
He has been under pressure since 2012, when the investigative website Mediapart published a document purporting to show that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($59 million at current rates).
But four years later, in 2011, Sarkozy was a driving force behind the international military invention that drove Kadhafi from power.
A trained lawyer, Sarkozy has fought the claims of Libya cash by citing presidential immunity, and arguing there is no legal basis in France for prosecuting someone for misusing funds from a foreign country.
He has faced a litany of legal woes since leaving office, including charges relating to fake invoices orchestrated by executives of the Bygmalion public relations firm to mask overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign.
In a third case, Sarkozy faces charges of trying to obtain classified information from a judge on an inquiry into claims that he accepted illicit payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.
Sarkozy was cleared over the Bettencourt allegations in 2013.