Nicolas Sarkozy has failed in his attempt to quash an inquiry into claims he used Libyan cash for his 2007 presidential campaign in a setback that could see the former French president stand trial.
A Paris appeals court on Thursday upheld the validity of the investigation, launched in 2012 after reports that Mr Sarkozy accepted €50 million (£45m) from the regime of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Mr Sarkozy, 65, has denied the allegations and his lawyer declined to comment over whether he would appeal the decision.
But the failed legal bid means the inquiry by two anti-corruption judges can continue, though it remains to be seen whether they will end up calling for a trial.
The investigation began after the Mediapart published a document in 2012, allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief, purporting to show that Mr Gaddafi had agreed to hand over the cash to Mr Sarkozy.
Judges are also investigating claims that Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese arms dealer who introduced Mr Sarkozy to Mr Gaddafi, had carried three suitcases stuffed with cash from Libya to Paris, personally handing over €5 million intended for Mr Sarkozy’s campaign to his then chief of staff - and later interior minister - Claude Guéant.
After Mr Sarkozy was elected in 2007, he received Mr Gaddafi with pomp in Paris, but later spearheaded international military action against his regime in 2011 along with David Cameron and Barack Obama, which led to the dictator being toppled and killed.
Also charged in the case is Alexandre Djouhri, a businessman known to be close with several top conservative politicians, who is suspected of acting as a middleman for the cash transfers.
The former president was charged in 2018 with taking bribes, concealing the embezzlement of Libyan public funds and illegal campaign financing.
Mr Gueant and another former minister, Eric Woerth, are among several others who have also been charged in the case.
Besides the claims of cash-stuffed suitcases, investigators suspect that Mr Sarkozy's campaign received cash from the 2009 sale of a villa on the French Riviera to a Libyan investment fund managed by Bashir Saleh, Mr Gaddafi’s former chief of staff.
Mr Djouhri is suspected of being the owner of the villa, which was sold at an inflated price to mask the alleged funds from Libya.
This is not the most immediate legal headache for Mr Sarkozy, who has enjoyed resurgent popularity since retiring, with his memoirs becoming a summer bestseller.
He has also been charged in two other cases, one relating to claims of fake invoices devised to hide overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign, and another for alleged influence peddling involving a top judge.
He is set to go on trial in the second case on October 5, when he will become France's first ex-president in the dock for corruption while in office.
Mr Sarkozy, who quit politics after a failed comeback attempt in 2017, has accused Parisian judges of waging a politically-motivated campaign against him.