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Ex-French President Sarkozy Questioned About Campaign Funds From Gadhafi


Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in custody this morning in Paris. He's being questioned by antifraud police over accusations that he took millions of euros in illegal campaign funding from the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Now, there have been rumors about this for years, but today the investigation has taken a more serious turn. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is on the line from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.


KING: So remind us what these rumors and now accusations are all about.

BEARDSLEY: Well, right. They've been around a while - that his - Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign was financed by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Now, that might sound strange that a foreign dictator would finance a French presidential campaign, but it was thought to be in return for Sarkozy bringing Gadhafi out of international isolation. Now, Sarkozy visited Libya in 2005 when the deal was laid when he was interior minister.

But let's go back to 2007. Sarkozy's just been elected president of France, and in one of his first moves, which was highly criticized, he brought Gadhafi to Paris and welcomed him in an official state visit. He said the Libyan strongman who had been linked to terrorist attacks - remember the 1988 Pan Am flight that went down over Lockerbie, Scotland? He was linked to that. But he said Gadhafi's ready to join the international community and behave responsibly. Many people thought it was indecent, and the French were shocked by images of Gadhafi pitching his desert tents in gardens in the center of Paris, Noel, right by the Elysee presidential palace.

And so this financing has been around - these accusations - for a while, but apparently judges have real evidence, documents and testimony from witnesses, testimony like - one actor says he brought 5 million euros in a suitcase from Tripoli to Paris three times. And another shady financier who'd been called before judges several years ago and didn't come - an international arrest warrant was put out, and he was just arrested in January of this year.

KING: Wow, a lot going on. What is Sarkozy saying?

BEARDSLEY: Well, this morning nothing because he's just been taken in this morning. He can be held for 48 hours. And then there's speculation that he could be officially charged depending on the proof. But he's always vehemently denied it. I want you to listen to this. Last fall, when he was running for his party's nomination for president during a debate, he was asked if there was any truth to these allegations.


NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

SARKOZY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So he says, "what indignity." You can hear how outraged he is. He says, "we are public servants. Are you not ashamed to ask me this?"

KING: So what's been the reaction in France today?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's huge breaking news. Of course the rumors aren't new, but this is the first time it's actually touched Sarkozy himself. He's gone from politics now. He's out of the public eye, and people have sort of forgotten about him. But you know what? This could actually have international implications.

You remember in 2011 when the international community formed a coalition, got a U.N. Security Council mandate and went in to bomb Moammar Gadhafi to keep his soldiers from, you know, attacking the city of Benghazi? It was during the Arab Spring. Now, the U.S. and France took the lead. I want you to listen to Edwy Plenel. He's the editor of an investigative news site that's been investigating this. Listen to him.

EDWY PLENEL: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says that - did Sarkozy go a lot further than the mandate in - the U.N. mandate in his zeal to get Gadhafi because he had a personal stake in it? He wanted to destroy the dictator and all the evidence of this financing. So Noel, stay tuned. This could be big.

KING: Will do. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.