As part of its exclusive series on Libya during the rule of late leader Moammar al-Gaddafi, Asharq Al-Awsat examines the regime’s ties with local and foreign powers, including its attempts to finance western presidential campaigns, particularly in France, the United States and Ukraine.
Witnesses from the former regime said that Tripoli had spent some 50 million euros in 2007 to fund the campaign of French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. Lebanese businessman Ziad Takeieddine, who was present at Sarkozy’s meetings with Gaddafi revealed that the “figures were much higher than that.”
Tripoli also pumped 5 million dollars in the presidential campaign of a candidate running in the 2004 US elections and 4 million euros for the campaign of Yulia Tymoshenko, who ran in the 2010 Ukraine elections.
Sarkozy has denied charges that he received Libyan funds, but one of the closest aides of Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, refuted his claims. The aide, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said that he was present at the closed-door meetings that used to take place between Libyan and French officials at the time. He added that Sarkozy had, in return for Libya’s funding of his campaign, pledged to improve his country’s ties with Tripoli and Africa.
The financing of the US candidate took place through a mediator, who was a close friend to both Seif al-Islam and a high-ranking American official. The candidate had pledged to Tripoli that should he win the elections, he would remove Libya off terrorism blacklists. The financing of his campaign took place through transferring funds through a third country. The agreement between the Libyans and Americans took place after a meeting in the US city of Toledo in Idaho.
Tymoshenko gained famed after she took part in what was called the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. She afterwards became her country’s prime minister before later running for president. Seif al-Islam’s aide revealed that he himself had delivered the funds for her campaigns
“I had them in a briefcase and I traveled to Ukraine on a private jet. I arrived at Kiev airport and delivered the case to the deputy prime minister,” he said.
Former members of the Libyan regime said of those days that other countries also played a part in funding presidential campaigns. This role was not restricted to Libya, they stressed.
The negotiations to fund Sarkozy’s campaign took place at the Corinthia Hotel Tripoli where Libyan officials sought to obtain a pledge from him to drop the case of the 1989 UTA Flight 772 bombing that implicated Gaddafi’s brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi. Senussi himself was present at the Tripoli meeting.
This case and others were on the negotiations table at the hotel, where Sarkozy stayed in September 2005. Among the gatherers was Bashir Saleh, who was known as the “director of Gaddafi’s office.” He now resides in South Africa and often denies having any links to financing Sarkozy’s campaign. Asharq Al-Awsat was unable to reach him for comment.
Takeieddine and Seif al-Islam’s aide confirmed that Saleh was present at the Tripoli talks. They said that Saleh was one of the most-informed officials in the case along with Alexander al-Jawhari, a French businessman of Algerian descent, who is currently detained in London.
Seif al-Islam’s aide recalled: “Of course Sarkozy was interior minister before he was elected president. He had arrived in Libya at the insistence of his aide Claude Gueant, as well as Takieddine.”
“We felt while talking with him that he had great ambitions to become president of France. He asked for support from Libya to fund his campaign,” he revealed.
Others present at the Corinthia Hotel meeting quoted Sarkozy as saying: “If you back me in the elections, then I will stand by Libya. We will work together in Africa.”
Seif al-Islam’s aide said that the French official had also pledged to drop the in absentia charges against the four suspects linked to the UTA flight crash.
Asked if Sarkozy had requested a certain sum to finance his campaign, the aide replied: “No, he only asked for funding. At a later stage, Sarkozy, al-Senussi and Takieddine met with Gaddafi and they agreed to fund the campaign.”
The financing was done through various ways, such as hard cash in large briefcases and money transfers.
French officials have since denied receiving funds, while Takieddine said: “You cannot imagine the amount of money that was transferred to the campaign.”
“It is a good thing that the majority of those involved are still alive. I predict major scandals in the future over this case,” he added.
After Sarkozy’s victory in the elections, he held a telephone call with Gaddafi to thank him for Libya’s cooperation, vowing that he will fulfill his pledges, revealed Seif al-Islam’s aide.
A voice recording of this May 27, 2007 conversation was released, confirming Libyan and French involvement in the financing.