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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Nicolas Sarkozy. La traversée du désert libyen

by Grégory Marin and Lionel Venturini

Nicolas Sarkozy: Crossing the Libyan Desert

Translated Friday 6 April 2018, by Cherrelle Dowdie

Nicolas Sarkozy was held in custody yesterday (March 20, 2018). He is being questioned about alleged illegal electoral campaign funding in 2007 by the Muammar Gaddafi regime.

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December 2007: Gaddafi was welcomed to Paris on a State visit with high honours. The visit lasted six days, twice the length of usual protocol. Photograph: Jacky Nagalen, Reuters

Is it really necessary to make a detour to Tripoli to understand the origins of Nicholas Sarkozy’s five-year term in office? The Libyan case file has expanded significantly and has led to Sarkozy being held in custody for the first time in this case, which has been ongoing for five years. Did Nicholas Sarkozy’s successful presidential campaign in 2007 benefit from secret funding from Muammar Gaddafi? There is no clear answer to this simple question. The investigation was initially opened for misappropriation of public funds, bribery and corruption, but expanded in January to include alleged "illegal funding of an electoral campaign". An ensemble of peculiar elements as well as a focus on Libya call for another look at the relationship between Sarkozy and Gaddafi.

"Sarkozy must return the money that he accepted from Libya to fund his electoral campaign" (Editor’s note, 2007), claimed Saïf Al Islam Gaddafi, son of Muammar Gaddafi, speaking in an interview on Euronews channel. This statement, as well as accusations one year later, led the Parisian public prosecution department to conduct a legal investigation in April 2013. The latter accusations came from Ziad Takieddine, a businessman linked to Sarkozy. In June of the same year, Moftah Missouri, one of Gaddafi’s former interpreters, confided the following on the programme Complément d’enquête (Further Investigation) on the channel France 2: "Gaddafi told me personally that Libya had paid around twenty million dollars to Nicholas Sarkozy." Of course, he said, "There was no bank transfer, no cheque, just suitcases filled with cash."

Hints of an arrangement between Paris and Tripoli in 2007

Did this alleged transaction mark the beginning of a financial relationship between Paris and Tripoli? In July 2007, 23 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, who had been imprisoned since 1999 by the Libyan judicial system, were freed. They had been accused of infecting 400 children with the HIV virus via blood transfusion. Cecilia Sarkozy, wife of the newly appointed President of the French Republic, recounted how her two armed guards spectacularly forced the locks to their prison cells. This romantic version of events was called into question when an agreement between Paris and Tripoli, or more precisely, Sarkozy and Gaddafi, was suspected. Due to this grand gesture, Sarkozy gained an international standing; Gaddafi, in turn, reopened dialogue with the west, his once-upon-a-time enemy.

In exchange for this highly publicised prison release, Nicholas Sarkozy is believed to have promised the Libyan regime a transfer of ultra-sensitive technology, ratified by a Memorandum of Understanding and a way of bypassing the international non-proliferation laws on Nuclear energy. Jean-David Lafitte, diplomatic advisor to the head of state, denied the existence of such an agreement when questioned by a parliamentary commission in the autumn of 2007. However, to the same courtroom, Marc Pierini, former EU ambassador to Libya, affirmed that the discussions on Nuclear energy between Paris and Tripoli had formed the ‘l’élément décisif’ (deciding factor) on the prison releases. In any case, the French Republic was perturbed by a more and more troublesome Gaddafi.

In December 2007, Gaddafi was welcomed to Paris on a State visit with high honours. The visit lasted six days, (twice the length of usual protocol). The visit included receptions at the Elysée Palace and National Assembly, private viewings of the Louvre and Versailles, and hunting in the forest at Rambouillet. Sarkozy even welcomed his guests in Bedouin tents in Marigny Town Hall’s gardens, "according to desert tradition which he respects to the letter", joked the Figaro newspaper.

Nicholas Sarkozy justified this visit by citing jobs, growth and contracts that "so many others were happy to have in (our) place". In the summer, Saïf Al Islam Gaddafi revealed to the newspapers Le Monde and Newsweek, the value of these contracts: 300 million euros was attributed to Benghazi hospital, 400 million euros to HIV infected children, ‘l’effacement de la dette’, (wiping out of the debt) of Libya with respect to several European countries, over 300 million euros in military contracts with The European Aeronautic Defence and Space company, and a large nuclear power station. These are millions of euros which were not to be seen by the French population.

According to the Elysee Palace spokesperson, David Martinon, "This progressive return of Gaddafi within the international community, was made possible by a certain number of very significant political gestures." It was met with Gaddafi’s greed; he was always wanting more out of this alliance with Paris. Sarkozy, conversely, retreated from the alliance. However, thanks to his intervention, the EU had outsourced refugee detention centres to Tripoli. Nevertheless, as the revolt gained momentum in Libya, Sarkozy colluded with the national board to bring about a governmental transition in Libya, in Spring 2011. Alongside an international coalition, he organised an intervention which would end with the assassination of his former ally in October. Should the real motives for military intervention by France in Libya be questioned? This is what is suggested by Marcel Ceccaldi, a defender of several Libyan former dignitaries. With Gaddafi gone, only a handful of people, including Sarkozy and the staff of the former regime emprisoned in Al-Hadba prison, know the answer.

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