PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy will challenge a barring order that forbids him from meeting key accusers and allies or travelling to countries such as Libya pending a judicial investigation into allegations that Muammar Gaddafi bankrolled his 2007 election campaign.
Sarkozy’s lawyer, speaking publicly for the first time since the former French leader was taken into policy custody this week and told he was officially suspected of passive corruption, said he would lodge a legal appeal against the barring order.
Sarkozy himself, who held office from 2007 to 2012, launched a counter-offensive on prime-time television overnight, vowing to “vanquish” his accusers, among them, in his words, “The Gaddafi gang, a gang of assassins”.
The 63-year-old, target of other judicial inquiries into political financing but nothing that resonates like the Libyan one, said magistrates did not have a shred of hard evidence and that the accusations against him were a “monstrosity”.
In an appearance on one of France’s main evening news shows that was watched by 6.9 million people, or more than one in six of the electorate, Sarkozy said:
“You cannot imagine how seriously I take this: if it takes me one year, two year or ten years, I will vanquish this gang. My honour will triumph. I will not cede a single centimetre to this lot.”
His lawyer, Thierry Herzog, used the same colourful language when he went on radio on Friday to defend his client.
“I will prove (ex-) President Sarkozy innocent. I will give proof he is innocent and then we will know who the evildoers are, who the thugs are, who the assassins are, who the robbers are,” he told RTL.
Herzog, who is also handling a separate case where Sarkozy stands accused of illicit spending overruns in his failed 2012 re-election bid, said he was going to appeal a judicial barring order imposed on Sarkozy when he was released from custody on Wednesday after two days of questioning.
That order prohibits him from travelling to Libya, Tunisia and South Africa, sources close to Sarkozy say.
It bars him from meeting accusers that include members of the late Libyan leader Gaddafi’s family and Libyan secret services as well as a Franco-Lebanese arms dealer who says he delivered cash in a suitcase to Paris as well as an intermediary arrested in London earlier this year.
He is also barred from meeting key allies including Claude Gueant and Brice Hortefeux, two close aides who were ministers under Sarkozy and have also been questioned by the judiciary.
Sarkozy said on the TF1 TV channel on Thursday that the sum police came up with for suspect money circulated during the 2007 campaign was 38,000 euros, calling that “a very far cry” from the 50 million euros cited by his accusers.
He also said that, while criticised for hosting Gaddafi with red carpet treatment in late 2007 in Paris, he was one of the chief advocates of the NATO-led intervention in 2011 in Libya, where Gaddafi was killed in rebel hands.
Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Toby Chopra