Nicolas Sarkozy has been taken into police custody over claims he received millions of euros in illegal election financing from the regime of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, according to French judicial sources.
The former French President was questioned by officers at Nanterre police station, west of Paris, on Tuesday as part of a five-year investigation into the allegations.
The probe centres on funding for Mr Sarkozy’s victorious 2007 presidential election campaign.
Police launched an investigation into alleged misuse of power, forgery, abuse of public money, and money laundering in April 2013.
A year earlier, the investigative news website Mediapart published documents suggesting Libya made cash payments to Mr Sarkozy’s campaign of up to €50m (£44m).
The legal campaign funding limit at the time was €21m (£18m). The alleged payments would also have violated French rules on foreign financing and declaring the source of campaign funds.
Mr Sarkozy, who served as President from 2007 to 2012, has always denied receiving any illicit campaign funding and has dismissed the Libyan allegations as “grotesque”.
In January, a French businessman suspected by investigators of funnelling the money from Gaddafi was arrested in Britain. He was bailed after appearing in a London court.
Mr Sarkozy is already set to stand trial in a separate matter concerning the financing of his failed re-election campaign in 2012, when he was defeated by Francois Hollande.
The Gaddafi case gained traction when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine claimed he delivered suitcases containing €5m in cash to Mr Sarkozy and his former chief of staff Claude Gueant.
In the Mediapart interview published in November 2016, Mr Takieddine alleged he was given the money in Tripoli by Gaddafi’s intelligence chief on trips in late 2006 and 2007.
He said he gave the money in suitcases full of cash to Mr Sarkozy and Mr Gueant on three occasions, and claimed claimed the handovers took place in the interior ministry while Mr Sarkozy was interior minister. Mr Gueant has also denied the allegations.
Mr Takieddine has for years been embroiled in his own problems with French justice, centred mainly on allegations he provided illegal funds to the campaign of conservative politician Edouard Balladur for his 1995 presidential election campaign.
Mr Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Soon after becoming the French President, Mr Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honours.
But Mr Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of Nato-led air strikes against Gaddafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.