By Charles Bremner
A businessman is to be deported to France after being arrested at Heathrow airport on a warrant from French judges investigating claims by the Gaddafi family that it bankrolled the presidential election campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy.
Alexandre Djouhri, 58, a well-known figure in French state dealings with north Africa for two decades, was detained after landing on Sunday on a European arrest warrant on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.
Mr Djouhri, a French-Algerian and a resident of Geneva, is believed to have been a money broker between Mr Sarkozy and Colonel Gaddafi, who died in 2011. It is expected that Mr Djouhri will be sent to France within days.
He has refused summonses by French judges who are heading an inquiry that began four years ago into the claims by former members of the Libyan regime that Gaddafi gave tens of millions of euros to Mr Sarkozy’s successful presidential campaign in 2007. Mr Djouhri appeared for a hearing at Westminster magistrates’ court yesterday and was remanded in custody.
Mr Djouhri, who was once a close associate of Mr Sarkozy, is at the centre of the claims that emerged from Tripoli in 2011 when the then French president mounted an international military campaign to drive Gaddafi from office. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, said: “Sarkozy has to give back the money he accepted from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We financed his campaign and we have the proof . . . ”
Further details of the alleged funding given by Gaddafi came from Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese businessman, who introduced Mr Sarkozy to Gaddafi, and has claimed that he handed over cases stuffed with cash to the former French leader and Claude Guéant, his chief of staff.
Mr Sarkozy denies receiving Libyan financing and has not been charged. Guéant is under official investigation for organised fraud in the Gaddafi inquiry. Guéant, who also served as interior minister, was sentenced last year by an appeal court to a year’s prison for embezzling €200,000 of state funds. He denies taking money from Gaddafi. He told Mediapart, an investigative site: “I have never received cash from the Libyan government. Nor did I see any handed over.”
Mr Djouhri, who was also close to Guéant, acted as an intermediary in Mr Sarkozy’s negotiations with Gaddafi for the release of Bulgarian nurses held in Tripoli in 2007.
Mr Djouhri was also reported to have helped to broker divorce arrangements between Mr Sarkozy and Cécilia Attias, who had gone to Tripoli to negotiate the release of the nurses.
Mr Djouhri’s Swiss home was searched by police at the request of the French in 2015. Last month the Swiss handed over their findings to Paris after Mr Djouhri failed to win a court order blocking the transfer of the findings.
Mr Djouhri has insisted that he was not wanted by France and a month ago he attended a dinner with President Macron at the French ambassador’s residence in Algiers. “Monsieur Alexandre”, as he was known, gained Mr Sarkozy’s trust after serving President Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, the ex-prime minister and arch-rival of the future president.
Mr Sarkozy has been charged with corruption in another case based on evidence gathered in the Gaddafi investigation but judges in the case have not uncovered evidence that he received Libyan funds.
The former president has also been charged with fraud over the finances of his unsuccessful 2012 campaign.
Top Photo: Alexandre Djouhri, right, served Dominique de Villepin when he was France’s prime minister REX FEATURES
Charles Bremner – A veteran of 20 years covering France, Charles Bremner is the Paris correspondent at The Times. Previously based in New York, Washington, Moscow, Brussels and Mexico City, he now covers the life and politics of France. As an active pilot, Charles also writes on aviation.