Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy accepted nearly $8 million from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to finance his 2007 presidential election campaign, Libya's ex-spy chief Mohamed Abdulla Senussi confirmed to French officials, according to Mediapart.
Two judges who travelled from Paris to Tripoli this week interviewed Senussi, who was also the brother-in-law of the Libyan colonel, as part of their ongoing investigation into financial ties between Gaddafi and Sarkozy, particularly in the run up to the 2007 French elections.
Mediapart said it had gained access to extracts from the statements provided by the former Libyan intelligence chief, who reportedly detailed to French officials how he oversaw the multi-million dollar payment for Sarkozy's campaign, as ordered by Colonel Gaddafi.
Senussi also confirmed that as part of the deal, the former French president's personal lawyer and friend Thierry Herzog attempted to overturn an international arrest warrant issued against Senussi, after his conviction in absentia by a Paris court for his part in the blowing up of a French airliner in 1989.
"Sarkozy's lawyer visited me with some families of the victims of the bombing. After that, Sarkozy himself assured me that my case will be settled in France in ten months," he reportedly told the judges.
Senussi added that the former French premier had later ordered air strikes on his house to destroy evidence that could implicate him in the future.
Last year, Sarkozy appeared on prime time television to reject accusations of illicit Libyan funding after he was called in for questioning and formally placed under investigation as a suspect in the affair, stating that the accusations were making his life "hell".
"There's not even the smallest inkling of proof," Sarkozy, visibly upset, said in a 25-minute evening news interview in March, later claiming that he was only under investigation for receiving 38,000 euros ($43,100), worth only 0.0018 per cent of his total campaign budget.
Yet Senussi's latest statement is also believed to detail the time frame in which the money was transferred to the French interior minister over two instalments in 2006. According to Mediapart, Senussi's testimony is in line with some of the evidence already collected by the investigators, while other details still need fact-checking.
Sarkozy, who came under fire for giving Gaddafi a red-carpet reception in Paris in late 2007, hosted Libyan rebels in 2011 and went on to become one of the main advocates of a NATO-led campaign that resulted in the eventual ousting of the 42-year dictator.
The former president is no stranger to controversy; having been dogged for years by accusations of wrongdoing, he is currently challenging an order to stand trial on charges of illicit spending overruns during his failed 2012 campaign.
One of the many factors that played in 40-year-old Emmanuel Macron's presidential election win in May 2017 was a promise of a clean break with traditional French politics, often marred by accusations of corruption.
Sarkozy's immediate predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was tried and convicted in 2011 of misusing public funds to keep political friends in phantom jobs – making him the first French head of state to be convicted of a crime since Nazi collaborator Marshall Philippe Petain in 1945.