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LONDON: An associate of French politician Nicolas Sarkozy was granted bail on Wednesday by a British court, after his arrest on charges linked to a probe into financing the ex-president's election campaign.

French businessman Alexandre Djouhri appeared at a London court after being detained on Sunday at Heathrow airport on a European arrest warrant on allegations of fraud and money laundering.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected an initial offer of £200,000 (225,000 euros) bail proposed by Djouhri's lawyer Mark Summers, upping the sum to £1 million.

Wearing a dark suit with a white shirt, frequently tightening the knot on his dark blue tie, 58-year-old Djouhri was ordered to stay at his daughter's home in the British capital.

State prosecutor Stuart Allen failed to convince the judge that the French suspect was at flight risk, given his wealth and numerous "links overseas", and should be remanded in custody owing to the serious nature of the charges.

Embroiled in an investigation into the suspected Libyan financing of Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign, he has refused to respond to summons for questioning in Paris.

Djouhri, who is well known among France's rightwing political establishment, will next appear in court on February 22 before a formal extradition hearing on April 17.

The Swiss resident has been a focus of the inquiry opened in 2013 by judges investigating claims by former Libyan ruler Moamer Kadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam that they provided funds for Sarkozy's election effort.

- Suitcases of cash -

French investigators are examining Djouhri's alleged involvement in the 2009 sale of a villa in the French Alps, for around 10 million euros, to a Libya investment fund managed by Kadhafi's ex-chief of staff Bashir Saleh.

Djouhri is suspected of being the true owner of the villa, which was sold at a "very inflated" price, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.

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 Kadhafi's overthrow.

In a series of conversations caught by wiretap, Djouhri can be heard promising to send judges a letter whereby Saleh would deny any Libyan financing of Sarkozy's campaign.

Sarkozy's links with Kadhafi came under heightened scrutiny in 2016 after businessman Ziad Takieddine admitted delivering five million euros from the Libyan leader for the French politician's first presidential bid.

In a media interview, Takieddine said he had made three trips from Tripoli to Paris in late 2006 and early 2007, each time carrying a suitcase containing 1.5-2.0 million euros in 200-euro and 500-euro notes.

Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the claims of vindictive Libyan regime members furious over his participation in the US-led military intervention that ended Kadhafi's 41-year rule.

 

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2018
 

 

 

 

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