Sarkozy aide charged with tax evasion, forgery

Sarkozy aide charged with tax evasion, forgery

HomeEuropeFrance Sun Mar 8, 2015 5:57AM

A former French interior minister has been charged with tax evasion and forgery in connection with an investigation into allegations that ex-Libyan dictator helped finance Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential election campaign.

Claude Gueant was placed on Saturday under formal investigation over cash he allegedly accepted from Muammar Gaddafi.

According to a judicial source, Gueant, who was Sarkozy’s closest aide for 10 years, had been charged with tax avoidance.

The charges were made after investigators found a 500,000-euro (USD 540,000) money transfer in Gueant’s bank account during a search in February 2013.

The former interior minister denies any of the charges, claiming instead that the money came for the sale of two 17th-century Flemish paintings by Andries van Eertvelt to a Malaysian lawyer.

However, experts question the amount, saying the highest price reached at an art auction for one of Eertvelt’s works was around 140,000 euros.

Gueant was taken into custody on March 6 in the offices of the anti-corruption bureau, where he was questioned and spent the night before interrogations resumed on Saturday morning.

Phillppe Bouchez el-Ghozi, Gueant’s lawyer, said the former minister was interrogated for 30 hours and was asked “almost 30 questions that mainly focused on the so-called Libyan funding.”

Gueant was Sarkozy’s chief of staff during the 2007 presidential election campaign, which was won by Sarkozy.

During Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in 2012, French media, the Mediapart website, published a document signed by Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Mussa Kussa, setting out an arrangement for 50 million euros to be given to the French leader’s 2007 campaign.

The French media site also presented other obtained documents linked to the campaign funding, including a governmental briefing note speaking of numerous visits to Libya by Sarkozy and his associates, travels aimed at securing funding.

Among the visits was one reportedly on October 6, 2005, which resulted in “campaign finance to NS” being “all paid,” the initials assumed to refer to Sarkozy.

The former French president has denied the claims that he accepted funding from Gaddafi and is now considering running in the country’s next presidential election in 2017.

This is not the first time Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign has come under scrutiny. A formal investigation was launched in March 2013 against Sarkozy over receiving illegal donations from French billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, the elderly heiress of L’Oreal group, to fund the election campaign.

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