NICE, France—Somehow it’s not surprising that Muammar Gaddafi’s revenge from the grave on former French President Nicolas Sarkozy involves a sleazy arms broker who got his start running a cheap ski resort just north of the Riviera.
The French leader’s louche habits and dodgy friends are almost as familiar here as his scrapes with and escapes from the law since his 2007-2012 presidential term.
Will the ghost of the wildly eccentric Col. Gaddafi finally put the 63-year-old “Sarko” behind bars, or will the politician famous for his twitchy energy, “bling bling” tastes, and fashion-icon wife, Carla Bruni, wriggle out of his considerable legal troubles once again?
The treatment he’s getting right now suggests the once mighty politician might, at last, have fallen too far to climb back out.
Sarkozy was arrested Tuesday by French authorities who want to grill him on suspicion of receiving as much as $60 million in campaign funds in 2006 from the Libyan strongman he famously betrayed a few years later.
The Associated Press reported Sarkozy was being held at the Nanterre police station, west of Paris. They have the right to detain and question him for 48 hours. The ex president already is facing trial on separate charges of illegal spending overruns during his failed 2012 re-election campaign. Sarkozy’s Paris lawyer did not return a call for comment.
The arrest Tuesday stems from damning accusations that first surfaced in 2012, when French officials opened an inquiry into a report by the famed French investigative news site Mediapart that a Franco-Lebanese businessman named Ziad Takieddine may have facilitated Gaddafi’s bankrolling of Sarkozy’s campaign.
In 2016, Takieddine told Mediapart that between 2006 and 2007 he brought Sarkozy and his former chief of staff suitcases stuffed with millions in cash from Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief in Tripoli.
Takieddine, who began his career overseeing chairlifts and T-bars and chatting up local celebrities and politicians at the Isola 2000 ski resort 90 miles north of Nice, eventually became a key arms broker between France, Pakistan, and the Middle East.
“I discovered things that should no longer stay hidden,” Takieddine told Mediapart.
Unfortunately for Sarkozy, France limits total campaign contributions to $26 million and foreign donors are forbidden.
Sarkozy put a knife in the back of his former friend Gaddafi almost exactly seven years ago on March 19, 2011 when NATO forces, led by France dropped the first bombs on Libya. The military intervention led to Gaddafi’s grisly and humiliating death at the hands of opposition fighters in Sirte, Libya eight months later.
Prior to that ugliness, Sarkozy and Gaddafi were so tight that “Sarko” welcomed him for a visit in Dec. 2007 to the Élysée Palace where they cut business deals worth several billion dollars. As Gaddafi pitched his trademark Bedouin tent near the palace for five days, Sarkozy dismissed critics of the visit and defended Gaddafi for giving up a nuclear arms program and pledging to renounce terrorism.
“France must speak with all of those who want to return to the road of respectability and reintegrate the international community,” Sarkozy said at the time.
What made Sarkozy turn on him? There was more than one theory, but Libyan analyst Soeren Kern attributed it to Sarkozy’s drop in the opinion polls prior to the first round of the 2012 presidential elections and competition from then political rising star Marine Le Pen, who was upstaging Sarkozy on the issue of Muslim immigration.
France claimed that the no-fly zone put in place over Libya was to protect civilians, but one of the famous trove of Hillary Clinton emails leaked at the end of 2011 indicated that Sarkozy was threatened by Gaddafi’s influence over Francophone Africa and wanted to get his hands on Libyan oil.
In an email from Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal to Hillary titled “France’s Client and Gaddafi’s Gold,” Blumenthal explained that Gaddafi’s huge reserves of silver and gold posed a serious threat to the West African CFA franc as the currency (PDF).
Just days before the French-led NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, ostensibly to prevent Gaddafi from carrying out a threatened massacre of his opponents at the height of the Arab Spring euphoria, a French reporter asked him if he felt “betrayed” by the French president.
“Sarkozy is mentally deficient,” Gaddafi said. “It’s thanks to me that he became president. … We gave him the funds that allowed him to win.”