Kadhafi regime 'agreed to fund Sarkozy 2007 campaign'

Moamer Kadhafi's regime agreed to fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign to the tune of 50 million euros, a news website reported Saturday, publishing what it said was documentary evidence.

The 2006 document in Arabic, which website Mediapart said was signed by Kadhafi's foreign intelligence chief Mussa Kussa, referred to an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to 50 million euros."

The left-wing investigative website made similar assertions on March 12, based on testimony by a former doctor of a French arms dealer alleged to have arranged the campaign donation, which Sarkozy slammed as "grotesque."

It was not stated that any Libyan money was actually handed over.

The latest report comes as Sarkozy trails Socialist rival Francois Hollande in opinion polls ahead of the run-off second round of presidential elections on May 6.

His campaign spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet Saturday dismissed the latest report as "ridiculous" and a "clumsy diversion" orchestrated by Hollande's camp.

In an email to AFP she said Sarkozy's 2007 campaign funds had been cleared by the Constitutional Council after the elections with no queries.

But Hollande spokesman Bernard Cazeneuve called on Sarkozy to "explain himself to the French in the face of such serious elements backed up by new documents emanating from the entourage of the Libyan dictator himself."

Mediapart said it had obtained the note from "former senior officials now in hiding."

The green-bordered note published and translated by Mediapart said the agreement followed a meeting on October 6, 2006, attended by Kadhafi's spy chief Abdullah Senussi, the head of Tripoli's African investment fund Bashir Saleh, close Sarkozy associate Brice Hortefeux and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine.

A lawyer for Takieddine, Samia Maktouf, denied to AFP that her client was present but said, "he believes this document is credible, given the date and the persons named."

Hortefeux, who later served as Sarkozy's interior minister, told Mediapart he had never met Mussa Kussa or Bashir Saleh.

The latest report by Mediapart, a respected source seen as opposed to Sarkozy's right-wing government, strengthens long-running allegations that French political camps have benefited financially from kickbacks on arms deals with foreign regimes.

Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam last year claimed that Libya financed Sarkozy's campaign, after Paris abandoned its improving ties with Libya and threw its weight behind the rebellion that eventually deposed and killed the dictator.

"Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything," Seif told the Euronews network.

When asked about Seif's comments during a March 12 interview on France's TF1 television, Sarkozy replied: "I am sorry to see you in the role of a spokeswoman for Kadhafi's son, frankly I've known you in better roles."

"It's grotesque and I am sorry that I am being interrogated about declarations of Kadhafi or his son on an important channel like TF1," Sarkozy said.

"When one quotes Mr. Kadhafi, who is dead, his son, who has blood on his hands, that is a regime of dictators, assassins, whose credibility is zero... frankly, I think we have sunk low enough in the political debate."

Takieddine is already under investigation for his alleged role in the funding of Edouard Balladur's failed 1995 presidential campaign for which Sarkozy was spokesman.

Investigators suspect Balladur's camp collected kickbacks on a deal to sell submarines to Pakistan and that a Karachi bombing that killed 11 French engineers was carried out by Pakistani agents in revenge after promised bribes went unpaid.

Sarkozy has always denied any wrongdoing in the 1995 campaign finance arrangements.

Kosciusko-Morizet claimed Saturday that Hollande's camp had orchestrated the latest disclosures to distract attention from the resurfacing of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the disgraced former International Monetary Fund head.

Strauss-Kahn earlier blamed his highly public fall from grace following his sexual encounter with a New York hotel chambermaid on Sarkozy to prevent him from standing as the Socialist candidate in the current presidential election.

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