Less than a week before the decisive second round of France’s contentious presidential elections, the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is fighting on at least two different fronts.
Outraged by claims that former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi offered to finance his successful 2007 election, Sarkozy has vowed to take legal action against his accusers.
A French website called Mediapart claims to have proof of such funding, producing a document from 2006 whereby Moussa Koussa, the former chief of Libyan intelligence, offered up to 50 million euros for Sarkozy’s campaign.
The document, apparently signed by Koussa, was in the form of a letter addressed to Bashir Saleh, Gaddafi's former chief of staff who also ran Libya's sovereign wealth fund.
Sarkozy blasted the document as a “crude forgery” on French television.
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Do you think that with all that I'd done to Mr. Gaddafi, he'd have made me a bank transfer? Why not a signed check? Sarkozy told France 2 TV on Monday. “It’s grotesque.”
Sarkozy linked the publication of the document to the imminent elections.
The election campaign doesn't justify everything, he said.
There's a section of the press, of the media, and notably the site in question whose name I refuse to mention, that is prepared to fake documents. Shame on those who have exploited them!
Koussa, who escaped Libya and has sought asylum in Europe, also dismissed the document as a fake. In a statement issued by his attorneys, Saleh also denied the allegations.
Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese businessman who reportedly was close to Libyan regime figures, however, told the Liberation newspaper that the document is credible.
I never witnessed discussions about financing Sarkozy's campaign in Libya. But there is little doubt about its authenticity, he said.
I have no proof. I only say that this document is credible.
In response to his threat of legal action, Mediapart blasted Sarkozy, asserting he is decidedly opposed to media independence and shows it by his reaction to our latest revelations on the Libyan secrets.
Last March, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, first made the allegations that his father proposed funding Sarkozy’s campaign, while France was planning to impose a NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya. (Saif is currently in detention in Libya and faces war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court.)
Sarkozy’s challenger for the French presidency, Socialist Francois Hollande, took a cautious stance on the explosive documents.
“If it's a fake, well then the website will be condemned,” he told French radio.
“And if it's not a fake, then at that point there would be some explaining to do”
Sarkozy and Hollande also both have to deal with the spectre of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund whose reputation and career were destroyed by his arrest for sexual assault in New York last summer.
Prior to that incident, Strauss-Kahn was expected to run for the French presidency under the Socialist banner.
Sarkozy has already denied allegations Strauss-Khan made that his arrest was politically motivated by Sarkozy's camp in order to remove Strauss-Kahn from the presidential race.
Hollande also faces the embarrassment of having to disassociate himself from the ruined Strauss-Kahn, who is now under invesgation for alleged involvement in a prostitution ring in France.
According to reports, Strauss-Kahn attended a party given by a Socialist MP over the weekend which also included members of Hollande’s campaign. Hollande went to great pains to declare that Strauss-Kahn plays no part in his campaign.
“I have already said that Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not been involved in this election campaign and it is not his place to show up now,” he told French radio.
Hollande is leading the polls, by as much as 6 percent, over Sarkozy, according to Ipsos-Logica. However, that represents a slight narrowing of the gap between the two rivals. Reportedly, Sarkozy is gaining some support from those who voted for the centrist candidate François Bayrou, while the president has made little headway is appealing to the French who gave far right candidate Marine Le Pen an unprecedented 18 percent of the first round poll.