International review Investigation

Nicolas Sarkozy, Ex-President of France, Faces Corruption Charges Over Libyan Cash

Николя Саркози приветствует приехавшего в Париж Муаммара Каддафи. Обвинения в коррупции, Миллионы евро для Саркози
In 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France welcomed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, then Libya’s leader, to Paris. Source: Maya Vidon/EPA, via Shutterstock.

This material belongs to: The New York Times.

PARIS — Former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was placed under formal investigation on Wednesday as part of an inquiry into whether his 2007 election campaign received illegal financial support from the Libyan government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Mr. Sarkozy, 63, faces charges of passive corruption, illegal campaign financing and misappropriation of Libyan public funds after a second day of questioning by the police in Nanterre, northwest of Paris, according to a spokeswoman for the French judiciary who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

The charge of passive corruption applies to people suspected of receiving money or favors.

The official said Mr. Sarkozy had denied any wrongdoing and had been placed under judicial control after his release from police custody. Under French law, judicial control can entail any number of obligations for a suspect for the duration of an investigation, including travel restrictions, but the official did not provide details.

The charges are a serious step up in the investigation, which was opened in 2013 and has slowly untangled a complex web of political and financial ties involving Mr. Sarkozy’s advisers, officials who were part of Colonel Qaddafi’s government before he was ousted and killed in 2011 and middle men who played a murky role as intermediaries between the two.

The suspicions that gave rise to the case emerged in 2012, when the investigative news website Mediapart published a report suggesting that Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign had received up to 50 million euros, or nearly $62 million at current exchange rates, from Colonel Qaddafi’s government. Since then, reports in the French press have cited figures that vary significantly.

In France, complex criminal cases are handled by special magistrates with broad investigative powers. Defendants are placed under formal investigation when the magistrates believe there is enough evidence pointing to serious wrongdoing.

But defendants do not automatically go to trial: Magistrates can drop cases when they believe the evidence gathered at the end of the investigation is insufficient, or when they uncover new elements that exonerate a suspect.

Since the end of his presidency, Mr. Sarkozy has faced multiple corruption inquiries, which are at various stages, and he has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

In some cases, like the so-called Bettencourt affair, in which Mr. Sarkozy was suspected of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal fortune into financing his 2007 campaign, the charges against him were dropped.

But he is still facing charges in other cases. In one involving illegal overspending during his bid for re-election in 2012, Mr. Sarkozy has been ordered to stand trial.

Mr. Sarkozy won the 2007 election, but failed to secure a second term in 2012. He withdrew from political life until he mounted an unsuccessful comeback to win the right-wing Republican primary for the 2017 presidential election.

Still, Mr. Sarkozy has remained a significant figure in the party, popular with its base and sought out by its top officials in times of crisis.

As he was being questioned in Nanterre over the past two days, several prominent Republican politicians spoke out on his behalf, and the party issued a statement expressing its support.