Sarkozy ducks questions over 'suitcases of cash' from Libya
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy ducked a debate question on Thursday over fresh claims that he received millions in campaign funding from late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's regime, calling it "disgraceful".
"Aren't you ashamed to repeat claims by a man who has spent time in jail?" Sarkozy retorted during the final television debate among seven right-wing presidential hopefuls ahead of US-style primaries on Sunday.
Sarkozy, who is bidding to recapture the presidency in next year's election, has for years been dogged by allegations that he accepted millions from Gaddafi during his successful 2007 run for the top office.
On Tuesday, Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine said he had delivered three cash-stuffed suitcases from the Libyan regime toward the Frenchman's first presidential bid.
Takieddine - a middle man in huge arms and petrol contracts between France and several Middle Eastern countries - has been convicted "countless times for defamation," Sarkozy fumed, calling him a "liar".
Declining to answer the question from a France 2 presenter, he suggested it was beneath the dignity of a public television network.
|Declining to answer the question from a France 2 presenter, Sarkozy suggested it was beneath the dignity of a public television network
Takieddine – who was briefly placed in preventive custody in 2013 when he was considered a flight risk during an affair related to a submarine deal - told the Mediapart investigative news site he made three trips from Tripoli to Paris in late 2006 and early 2007 with cash for Sarkozy's campaign.
Each time he carried a suitcase containing between 1.5 and two million euros [$1.6 million and $2.1 million] in 200-euro and 500-euro notes, Takieddine told Mediapart, saying he was given the money by Gaddafi’s military intelligence chief.
"Why and how can a guy like this stand for the presidency of the republic? The French people must react. It will explode," Takieddine said
Libyan officials from the Gaddafi era have previously claimed they helped finance Sarkozy's election campaign.
In October, a report released by Mediapart revealed that France's far-right National Front party was seeking money from the United Arab Emirates to fund its presidential election campaign of leader Marine Le Pen.
Since the revelation, the party admitted it was seeking funds from the Middle East to prepare for 2017 presidential elections.
"We're seeking worldwide [support], everywhere but France, considering that all the banks [in France] have rejected us," National Front economic strategist and European Parliament MP Bernard Monot told Mediapart.
Le Pen told French media that links to the UAE were justified [Getty]
In 2014, Le Pen told French media that links to the UAE were justified but France must cut ties with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who "support" extremism as she claimed.
"France needs to cut off its links with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have helped, supported and funded Islamic fundamentalists across the world," she told France 24 in September 2014.
"We should seek support from Muslim countries that fight fundamentalism," she added, before referencing the UAE and Egypt as potential donors.
Le Pen is convinced that her anti-immigration, anti-Islam views can lead her to presidency in five months.
Some polls suggest that far-right party is expected to win the first round of the 2017 presidential elections with 25-30 percent of the vote, after Donald Trump's election in the US gave a new boost to conservative leaders in Europe.
Sarkozy too is campaigning on strong anti-immigration and security measures, in the hope to snatch some of Le Pen's far-right votes.
But he is facing tough competition in his party's two-round primary that starts Sunday. Polls have repeatedly placed him behind ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppe.
Agencies contributed to this report.