French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday sued a Web site that claimed former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi financed his 2007 presidential election, seeking to spin the charge in the crucial final week before France goes to the polls.
Right-wing incumbent Sarkozy is clawing back points from Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, whose own presidential bid has been hit by the intrusion of disgraced former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn into the campaign.
Both candidates have been appealing to the 18 percent of voters who chose anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round of the election on April 22, with Sarkozy riding on the back of rhetoric inspired by her National Front party.
Sarkozy on Monday dismissed as a “crude forgery” a document published by left-wing investigative Web site Mediapart alleging that the former Libyan leader agreed to give 50 million euros (US$66.3 million) to Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007.
“We will file a suit against Mediapart ... This document is a crude forgery, the two people supposed to have sent and received this document have dismissed it,” Sarkozy told France 2 TV.
Sarkozy and his supporters believe that he is targeted by “biased” left-wing media.
“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,” Sarkozy said.
Paris prosecutors later in the day opened a preliminary inquiry into Mediapart following Sarkozy’s complaint, judicial sources said.
Claims that Qaddafi financed Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign are not new, but Mediapart’s document bearing the signature of former Libyan foreign intelligence boss Moussa Koussa is.
The letter was addressed to Bashir Saleh, Qaddafi’s former chief of staff and head of Libya’s US$40 billion sovereign wealth fund, who is currently resident in France.
However, Saleh’s lawyer said he had “grave reservations” about the document while Koussa, who lives in Qatar, said: “All these allegations are false.”
Hollande said that it was up to judges to decide on the allegations.
“If it’s a fake then the site will be found guilty, if it’s not a fake then he [Sarkozy] will have some explaining to do,” Hollande said.
“Obviously Nicolas Sarkozy has a complicated history with Mr Qaddafi,” he said, allowing that “the facts are yet to be verified.”
Meanwhile, Hollande’s team tried to play down the emergence of one-time French presidential hopeful Strauss-Kahn after he attended a Socialist lawmaker’s birthday party in Paris.
Lawmaker Julien Dray on Saturday invited senior members of his party to the party at a popular disco on the notorious Rue Saint Denis, a street long associated with prostitution.
However, Dray did not warn his guests he had invited Strauss-Kahn, who became a toxic figure last year when he was accused of sexual assault in New York and is now under investigation in France over alleged ties to a vice ring.