PARIS (AP) — French investigative judges filed preliminary charges on Friday against former President Nicolas Sarkozy for his alleged involvement in an attempt to mislead magistrates in order to clear him in a case regarding the suspected illegal financing from Libya of his 2007 presidential campaign.
The preliminary charges accuse Sarkozy of “benefitting from corruptly influencing a witness” and “participating in a criminal association” in order “to mislead the magistrates in charge of the judicial investigation into suspicions of Libyan financing of his election campaign,” according to a statement from the financial prosecutors’ office.
Sarkozy has denied any involvement. His lawyers said in a statement Friday that the ex-president is “determined to assert his rights, establish the truth and defend his honor.”
Under French law, preliminary charges mean there is reason to suspect a crime has been committed, but it allows magistrates more time to investigate before deciding whether to send the case to trial.
French media report that Sarkozy is suspected of having given the go-ahead, or allowed several people to do so, regarding a fraudulent attempt to clear him in the so-called Libyan case.
Sarkozy and 12 others will go on trial in early 2025 on charges that his 2007 presidential campaign received millions in illegal financing from the government of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Sarkozy has been under investigation in the Libya case since 2013. He is charged with illegal campaign financing, embezzling, passive corruption and related counts.
Investigators examined claims that Gadhafi’s government secretly gave Sarkozy 50 million euros for his winning 2007 campaign. The sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time and would violate French rules against foreign campaign financing.
The investigation gained traction when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told news site Mediapart in 2016 that he had delivered suitcases from Libya containing 5 million euros ($6.2 million) in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff. Takieddine later reversed course and Sarkozy sought to have the investigation closed.
After becoming president in 2007, Sarkozy welcomed Gadhafi to France with high honors later that year. Sarkozy then put France at the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes that helped rebel fighters topple Gadhafi’s government in 2011.
In an unrelated case, Sarkozy was sentenced to a year of house arrest for illegal campaign financing of his unsuccessful 2012 reelection bid. He is free while the case is pending appeal.
He also was found guilty of corruption and influence peddling in another case and sentenced to a year of house arrest in an appeals trial in May this year. He took the case to France’s highest court, which suspended the sentence.