LONDON: French businessman wanted for questioning in relation to an inquiry into the alleged illegal financing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential election run by the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has been granted £1 million bails by the high court in London.
French police are seeking to extradite Alexandre Djouhri to Paris, where he has been evading a summons for questioning on his connections with Sarkozy.
Djouhri, who is resident in Switzerland, was arrested on Sunday by the Metropolitan police at Heathrow airport on a European arrest warrant issued by the French in December.
UK government lawyers failed on Wednesday to convince the judge – Emma Arbuthnot – that Djouhri might try to flee, given his huge personal wealth, multiple overseas links and dual Algerian-French nationality.
The court ordered him to provide a £1m bail and stay at his daughter’s flat pending further extradition hearings.
Sarkozy, the French president from 2007 to 2012, has claimed that the charges that his campaign was funded by Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam are part of an act of revenge by the Gaddafi family, angry that France had played a central role in triggering the events that led to the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.
French authorities have been investigating since 2013, partly focusing on a 2008 property transaction that allegedly led the Gaddafi family indirectly to pay massively over the odds for an abandoned and vandalised villa owned by Djouhri in Mougins in south-east France. The property was bought for €10m (£8.8m) by a Libyan investment fund, the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio, managed by Gaddafi’s former chief of staff and chief financier Bashir Saleh.
Djouhri is suspected of having been the true owner of the villa, the actual value of which was closer to €4.4m. The French investigators are trying to establish whether the profit on the sale was then syphoned into the Sarkozy campaign.
Djouhri will next appear in court on 22 February before a formal extradition hearing on 17 April.
Investigators also suspect Djouhri of helping Saleh get out of France in early 2012, in a private jet headed for Niger, as he faced a Libyan arrest warrant a few months after Gaddafi’s overthrow. He eventually escaped to South Africa, allegedly with the help of Sarkozy’s aides.
In a series of conversations caught by wiretap and reported in the French press, Djouhri was heard promising to send judges a letter whereby Saleh would deny any Libyan financing of Sarkozy’s campaign.
Sarkozy’s alleged links with Gaddafi came under closest scrutiny in 2016 after the businessman Ziad Takieddine said in an interview with Mediapart that he had delivered €5m from the Libyan leader in silver suitcases for the French politician’s first presidential bid.
In the interview, Takieddine claimed he had made three trips from Tripoli to Paris in late 2006 and early 2007, each time carrying a suitcase containing €1.5m-2m in €200 and €500 notes.