AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
PARIS: The French presidential race entered the home straight today with both incumbent right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande battling to shake off the taint of scandal.
Sarkozy accused Hollande supporters in the media of mounting a “despicable” smear against him by publishing a document purporting to show Moammar Gadhafi’s former Libyan regime agreed to fund his previous presidential campaign in 2007.
Meanwhile, the Socialists were embarrassed when several senior figures in Hollande’s campaign attended an ally’s birthday celebration and found that disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had also been invited.
Both events revived interest in these long-running scandals just one week before France goes back to the polls and just days before Hollande and Sarkozy were to face off in a televised debate which could prove decisive.
The latest opinion poll published by the LH2 institute for web portal Yahoo! forecast that Hollande would comfortably win the May 6 run-off by 54 per cent of the vote to Sarkozy’s 46, a smaller gap than in LH2’s last estimate. But polling has yet to take into account the effects, if any, of the latest controversies, neither of which appear fatal to either campaign, but which may reinforce the voters’ broader disdain for the political class. Yesterday, investigative news website Mediapart published what it said was a copy of an internal Libyan regime document recording an alleged 2006 illegal funding deal between Tripoli and Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.
According to the note, which Mediapart claims to have obtained from former regime figures ousted last year in the revolt against Kadhafi’s rule, Tripoli agreed to pay Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign $66 million.
“It’s despicable. It’s a forgery. Mediapart is well used to dishonesty. It’s an agency in the service of the left,” Sarkozy declared in an interview with Canal+ television, angrily dismissing the claim. And the man to whom the memo was supposedly addressed — Bashir Saleh, Gadhafi’s former chief of staff and head of Libya’s $40 billion sovereign wealth fund — denied ever receiving such a communication.
Saleh is now living in exile in France, and his lawyer Pierre Haik sent AFP a statement expressing “grave reservations” over the authenticity of the note.
If any such transaction or even planned deal were ever proved, Sarkozy and his campaign staff could face criminal prosecution, but his allies came out strongly, dismissing the alleged evidence and attacking the report.
There are long-standing rumours that Sarkozy’s victorious 2007 campaign benefited from illegal foreign funds, and Mediapart has been at the forefront of reporting on his camp’s alleged links to shady middlemen. Prime minister also attacked former Socialist favourite Strauss-Kahn, accusing him of intervening in the campaign to make false allegations against Sarkozy.