The government of the late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi agreed to fund French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign to the tune of $50.2m, a French news website has reported.
The Paris-based investigative website Mediapart on Saturday published what it said was documentary evidence of the illegal campaign funding.
Sarkozy has previously strongly denied the allegations when questioned by French journalists in March and April, although he has not yet commented to the latest docuement released by Mediapart.
France has strict campaign financing laws, banning politicians from taking funding from foreign states.
The 2006 document, written in Arabic, was signed by Gaddafi's intelligence chief Moussa Koussa, who currently lives in exile in Doha, Qatar.
It referred to an "agreement in principle to support the campaign for the candidate for the presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy, for a sum equivalent to 50 million euros [$50.2m]".
It refers to a meeting that allegedly took place on June 6, 2006 between Brice Hortefeux, Sarkozy’s close ally, and Ziad Takieddine, a Franco-Lebanese businessman who has been at the centre of a number of political scandals linked to Sarkozy and his inner circle.
During Sarkozy’s five years as president, Hortefeux served as France’s immigration and national identity minister and as interior minister. Takieddine, who acted as an envoy for Sarkozy from as early as 2005, told Mediapart that he was not present at the meeting but that the document otherwise appears to be genuine.
"This document proves that what we have here is an 'affaire d'Etat', whether these 50 million euros were transferred or not," he said.
"The investigation will be difficult because many of those present were killed during the war in Libya, but it's still important that this document should be made public," Takieddine, who has himself come under frequent investigation by the news website, is quoted as saying in the report published on Saturday.
The allegations that Gaddafi had financed the conservative politician's first presidential campaign first came from Gaddafi himself in March 2011, shortly before France went on to play a lead role in NATO's military intervention in the north African country.
The investigative website has been following the story for more than a year, but claims that the document published on Saturday offers the most concrete proof yet of the illegal campaign financing allegations.
The document, Mediapart reports, was given to it by former high officials from Libya "a few days ago".
"The discovery of the note written by Mr. Koussa requires an official investigation - whether that be judicial, police or parliamentary - on this episode dark and concealed in Franco-Libyan relations," Mediapart writes.
Sarkozy will be seeking re-election on May 6, going up against the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.
Bernard Cazeneuve, a spokesperson for Hollande, said in a statement on Saturday evening that Sarkozy "must explain himself before the French people" in response to the campaign funding allegations.
"Faced with such serious allegations, backed up by documents sourced from the Libyan dicator's own entourage, Nicolas Sarkozy must explain himself before the French people."
"Several times in recent weeks, specific information has been published by the press, relating to France's relationship with the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime these last few years," Cazeneuve said.
Hollande's campaign also drew attention to the current presidents projects to sell French nuclear technology to Gaddafi, until September 2010.
This marks the first time the Socialist candidate has raised the allegations in his campaign, as the competition for the presidency intensifies.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|