Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will be tried in 2025 over allegations he took money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi to fund one of his election campaigns, prosecutors said on Friday.
The trial has been scheduled for January-April 2025 and is set to hear explosive evidence that the right-winger conspired to take cash from the Libyan leader to illegally fund his victorious 2007 bid to become French president.
Sarkozy, who has faced a litany of legal problems since his one term in office, denies the allegations -- which are the most serious he faces and potentially the most damaging to his already badly tainted reputation.
The 68-year-old has already been convicted twice for corruption and influence-peddling in separate cases involving attempts to influence a judge and campaign financing. He has appealed against both judgements.
Among 12 others facing trial over the alleged Libyan financing are heavyweights such as Sarkozy's former right-hand man, Claude Gueant, his then-head of campaign financing, Eric Woerth, and former minister Brice Hortefeux.
The investigation was sparked by revelations from the investigative website Mediapart, which published a document purporting to show that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($54 million at current rates).
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were preparing to drive Kadhafi from power, the dictator's son Seif al-Islam also said publicly that Sarkozy must "give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign".
The French and Libyan leaders enjoyed surprisingly cordial ties, with Sarkozy letting the Libyan strongman pitch his Bedouin tent opposite the Elysee Palace on a state visit to France just months after his election.
A lawyer for anti-corruption body Sherpa, Vincent Brengarth, applauded the "extremely rigorous work of investigating authorities" which he said "opens the way for an absolutely historic trial".
Sarkozy declined to comment when asked by AFP on Friday, but he has repeatedly denied the accusations and repeated during a TV interview on Wednesday that he had not embezzled a "single centime".
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The lawyer-turned-politician, who married singer Carla Bruni while in office, faces charges of corruption, criminal association, illegal campaign financing and conspiracy in misusing Libyan public money.
In their deposition, prosecutors say a "corruption pact" was sealed between Sarkozy and Kadhafi under which Kadhafi would benefit from "diplomatic, economic and legal compensation" in return for the money.
Lacking hard evidence of bank transfers or cash, they aim to prove their accusations based on "a series of consistent statements from former Libyan officials".
Sarkozy is also being investigated over possible attempts to pressure crucial prosecution witness Ziad Takieddine, a Franco-Lebanese businessman who suddenly retracted his incriminating testimony in 2020.
Takieddine had claimed he delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($6.15 million) in cash in 2006 and 2007.
Sarkozy has been back in the news in recent weeks in France after publishing the second volume of his memoirs and suggesting that areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia after the Kremlin's invasion last year might need to be recognised as Russian.
He also said that the Crimean peninsula, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, would now remain Russian and that "any return to the way things were before is an illusion".
Sarkozy took a lead role in negotiating Russia's partial withdrawal from Georgia after Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion in 2008.
He and his prime minister, Francois Fillon, enjoyed friendly relations with the Kremlin leader.
Sarkozy faces a separate probe into possible potential influence-peddling after he received a payment from Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of three million euros in 2019 while working as a consultant.
Although he became the first ex-president to be taken in to police custody, he is not the first to be convicted of corruption.
His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
Despite his two convictions, Sarkozy currently faces no threat of going to jail and can serve his sentences by wearing an electronic bracelet.