Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is now under formal investigation over corruption charges that could see him end up behind bars for five years if found guilty. After 48 hours of police questioning last week, Sarkozy said the scandal was “making his life hell”. Critics would say it’s a fate deserved.
The combative Sarkozy, who was known as Mr Bling-Bling for his lavish lifestyle, is being investigated by French prosecutors for taking $60 million in illicit bribes from the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The money was allegedly used to bankroll Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign in 2007.
It is increasingly suspected that covering up the money-trail was a primary motive for why then President Sarkozy became the main architect for the NATO bombing campaign on Libya in 2011. That military onslaught led to regime change and the murder of Gaddafi by NATO-backed militants.
During the region-wide Arab Spring uprisings in early 2011, relatively minor protests in eastern Libya against Gaddafi’s rule were blown up by the US and European NATO states. In retrospect, the manipulation of events in Libya by NATO powers bears a striking similarity to the same ploy for regime change that nearly unfolded in Syria.
France’s President Sarkozy was the chief advocate for sanctions on Libya during February 2011, and for a NATO no-fly zone over the country to supposedly prevent Gaddafi’s forces “massacring” the Western-lionized uprising in Benghazi.
It was Sarkozy who, along with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, galvanized the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join in the plan for NATO military intervention in Libya. On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council mandated a NATO no-fly zone. Russia and China were blindsided. The so-called humanitarian “right to protect” turned into a seven-month NATO blitz on Libya.
On October 20, 2011, Colonel Gaddafi was lynched by a mob in his hometown of Sirte after his fleeing convoy was bombed by NATO warplanes. He was dragged from a roadside drain by the mob who then beat him to death. One militant thrust a knife up his anus. Clinton notoriously gloated over Gaddafi’s gruesome death recorded in a macabre video. There have also been unconfirmed reports that French military intelligence operative were present on the ground among the frenzied killers.
Seven years later, the once stable and developed North African country is still reeling in chaos from internecine tribal conflict and a hotbed for Islamist terror groups, with no functioning central government. NATO created a failed state which is destabilizing Europe as a conduit for mass migration of desperate people from all over Africa.
The bitter irony is that Nicolas Sarkozy in the early 2000s was a principal Western political figure who participated in the apparent rehabilitation of the former Libyan “wild child” – the revolutionary Col Muammar Gaddafi who seized power in 1969. Gaddafi – also nicknamed “Mad Dog” by the Americans – had been the bane of Western imperialism for decades, supporting various revolutionary groups, such as the Irish Republican Army against British rule in Northern Ireland.
Gaddafi eventually tried to normalize relations with the Western powers, giving up his country’s weapons programs. The brutal US-led war disposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003 may have been a factor in swaying Gaddafi to placate the Western powers.
During the French presidency of Jacques Chirac (2002-2007), Sarkozy was the finance minister, as well as interior minister. It was Sarkozy who acted as the mediator to restore commercial links with Libya and apparently to rehabilitate Gaddafi as a Libyan leader acceptable to Western powers. Britain’s Tony Blair was another supposed peace tribune. In the end, Gaddafi was disposed of like Saddam.
When Sarkozy made a bid for the presidency in 2007, it is alleged that Gaddafi funneled up to €50 million ($60m) to Sarkozy for his election campaign. Soon after gaining the Élysée Palace, Gaddafi was hosted in Paris by President Sarkozy, where the maverick Libyan leader was permitted to pitch his Bedouin tent on the grounds of a landmark luxury hotel.
However, the smiles, handshakes and bonhomie would soon turn sour.
Sarkozy denies the claims that he received money from Gaddafi. Last week, he said he was determined to clear his name. Tellingly, the former French head of state – the only French president ever to be held in custody – contended that there was “no physical evidence” against him. It was a strange formulation of words.
Still, the claims against him are formidable. The allegations of graft first surfaced in March 2011 when Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, angrily demanded that Sarkozy give back the alleged Libyan donations for his earlier election campaign. Sail al-Islam made the claim around the time of the UNSC resolution being passed and the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign.
But it’s not just Gaddafi’s family making claims against Sarkozy. Libya’s former oil minister Shukri Ghanem also noted in his diary that massive payments were made to Sarkozy in 2007. French prosecutors are believed to be in possession of the diary. Suspiciously, in 2012, Ghanem was found drowned in the River Danube in Vienna.
The money trail was also corroborated by Libya’s former state wealth fund manager Bashir Saleh. He was known as “Gaddafi’s banker”.
Then in November 2016, a French-Lebanese businessman named Ziad Takieddine told French media that he personally acted as the courier transporting suitcases of cash from Libya to Paris during 2007, where he says he delivered up to $5 million to Sarkozy at the ministry of interior.
Sarkozy (63) dismisses the charges as emanating from bitter former associates of Gaddafi.
Nevertheless, the stench of corruption is hard to dispel. Since the end of his presidency in 2012, Sarkozy and members of his former inner-circle have been investigated in multiple other corruption probes. He is currently awaiting trial over the Bygmalion scandal in which he is accused of misusing up to €20 million in public funds for his failed re-election campaign in 2012.
If the investigation over Libyan money embezzlement goes to trial, Sarkozy could be facing five years in jail if found guilty.
If he does go to prison, some might say that Mr Bling-Bling gets off light considering the trail of death and destruction in his wake. Because the potentially bigger scandal is that Sarkozy mobilized an illegal NATO war on Libya in 2011 which led to the murder of its head of state.
During that blitzkrieg on Libya, NATO carried out some 26,500 bombing sorties over seven months. To put that in perspective, recent figures show that the Saudi-led bombing campaign on Yemen has carried out 16,000 sorties over three years.
Notably too, of the 19 nations that participated in the pulverizing of Libya, it was the French who most prominently led the highest number of air strikes. French warplanes were responsible for some 35 per cent of all attacks.
What happened in Libya was a veritable war of aggression – a supreme war crime. America’s Obama and Clinton, as well as Britain’s Cameron, are certainly foremost subjects for war crimes prosecution. But the chief culprit for NATO’s devastation of Libya is Nicolas Sarkozy.
If he thinks 48 hours of police questioning in Paris last week over corruption is “hell”, Sarkozy should spare a thought for the thousands of innocent lives he obliterated over his money-grubbing schemes.