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8 Mar, 2014 01:11

Sarkozy’s phone ‘tapped’ over Libya cash claims

Sarkozy’s phone ‘tapped’ over Libya cash claims

A French judge has ordered that the phone of former President Nicholas Sarkozy be tapped as part of a probe on whether he took funds from ex-Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi to help bankroll his 2007 election campaign, the French daily Le Monde reported.

The judge allegedly first ordered Sarkozy’s phone be tapped in April 2013, as well as the phones of two of his former ministers, Brice Hortefeux and Claude Gueant, the paper revealed Friday.

But someone involved in the investigation most likely tipped Sarkozy off, as he became extremely careful about using his official phone. He and his lawyer then acquired secret mobile phones, the paper claimed. Investigators eventually found out about them and ordered they also be bugged.

Last year, French judges launched an investigation over allegations that deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi gave money to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential election campaign. The explosive allegation first emerged in 2011, after Sarkozy played a central role in ordering French armed forces to help topple Gadaffi’s regime.

Saif al-Islam, one of Gadaffi’s sons, claimed Libya helped finance the French president’s election campaign. In an interview with Euronews TV channel, Saif threatened to make public the details of the bank transfers after France played such an instrumental role in toppling his father. He also demanded that the French president return the money.

Saif al-Islam Gadaffi (AFP Photo / Mahmud Turkia)

French investigative website Mediapart claimed in 2012 to have seen a confidential note suggesting that Gadaffi contributed 50 million euro to Sarkozy’s election fund in 2007. And in 2013, Ziad Takieddine, a hugely wealthy arms dealer with links to Britain, told French Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke that he could supply paperwork proving the cash was paid between December 2006 and January 2007.

Le Monde also accused Gilbert Azibert, a prosecutor at France’s top appeals court, the Cour de Cassation, of secretly passing Sarkozy legal updates about a separate corruption scandal – the Bettencourt Affair. In return, France’s ex-president made sure Azibert was prompted to a top government job in Monaco.

In the Bettencourt case, Sarkozy was accused of receiving large campaign donations – which went unreported – from the heiress to the L’Oreal empire, Liliane Bettencourt. Investigators said that Sarkozy had taken advantage of 91-year-old Liliane, and that she was too frail to know what she was doing.

The charges were dropped in October 2013, but a further ten other people – including Sarkozy’s former campaign treasurer Eric Woerth – have been sent to trial over allegations that officials from Sarkozy’s UMP party received envelopes stuffed with cash from Bettencourt's bank accounts.

Judges at France's top court, the Cour de Cassation, are due to rule on March 11 whether seizures of Sarkozy’s agenda, diaries, and other documents during the course of the investigation into the Bettencourt Affair were legal.

The ruling on the handling of the Bettencourt case is crucial, says Le Monde, because it could have the potential to wreck yet another probe facing Sarkozy. Investigators want to build a case that the disgraced tycoon Bernard Tapie received a 400 million euro state bailout after the collapse of Credit Lyonnias Bank.

Sarkozy is suspected of rigging a settlement procedure to make sure Tapie got the cash as a 'thank you' for supporting him in the 2007 election. Tapie already has several corruption convictions, including one for match fixing when he was boss of Olympique Marseille football club.

The allegations in Le Monde come after lawyers representing Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni filed emergency legislation in a separate incident on Thursday against any further publication of leaked recordings, which reveal a range of compromising comments made by the ex-president while he was in office. Sarkozy and his wife’s emergency injunction will be heard on Monday.

With regard to the allegations published in Le Monde, Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said the accusations were fabricated.

I will show in due course that this is a political issue,” he said, adding that Sarkozy’s phone calls are still being wiretapped.