Sarkozy allegations point to dark side of transactional politics
Western democracies have been shaken by evidence of Russian interference in their elections and political processes. In Washington, two congressional committees and a special prosecutor are investigating allegations of subversive Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential race. Across Europe charges have been made concerning Russian ties with and financing of nativist political parties.
However, if French investigators prove correct, Moscow’s activities will seem downright amateurish compared to the help that Libya’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi purportedly provided former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sarkozy spent two days in police custody being questioned over claims he received as much as $60 million from the Qaddafi regime during his presidential campaign in 2007. He won the election and served as France’s president until 2012. At the time, the legal campaign funding limit in France was $25 million and foreign funding of campaigns was illegal.
The allegations were made in 2012 by Mediapart, a French investigative website, and denied by Sarkozy. The investigation was reopened when Ziad Takieddine, a French-Lebanese businessman, told Mediapart in 2016 that he received suitcases stuffed with cash from Libya’s military intelligence chief that he personally delivered to Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007.
If the allegations are proven true, it is unclear what Qaddafi received in exchange for the money. Soon after his election, Sarkozy invited Qaddafi to Paris for a state visit with the accompanying pomp; perhaps this gesture of legitimacy is what Qaddafi craved after years of being a pariah. To the dismay and horror of the French people, however, the mercurial Libyan leader camped out in a tent on the grounds of Elysee Palace.
Undoubtedly, Sarkozy hoped that French firms would be given an advantage in pursuing projects in Libya. On that front, he was, for the most part, disappointed and felt that the Libyans had reneged on contracts.
By 2011, Sarkozy had soured on the Libyan leader and ordered the French Air Force to play a major role in the NATO-led strikes against Qaddafi’s forces, greatly contributing to their defeat and the extrajudicial execution of Qaddafi.
Following his father’s death, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi told Euronews: “Sarkozy has to give back the money he accepted from Libya to finance his electoral campaign.”
While Saif al-Islam may not be the most reliable source, French police apparently had further evidence to order Sarkozy’s detention.
Nothing has been proven but several things are clear: 1) Western election campaigns cost large sums of money to run and the best-funded candidate often is the winner. 2) Foreign leaders and governments often have access to large sums of money and almost always have a favoured candidate in Western political contests. 3) There are an infinite number of potential go-betweens and “bagmen” — such as Takieddine claims to be — willing to facilitate the illicit transfer of funds. 4) Do I need to explain further?
This affair — assuming Sarkozy is convicted — makes one wonder: How often has this happened without it being discovered? How have illicit transfers from foreign governments to Western leaders affected Western foreign policies? Did Sarkozy send the French Air Force to help free the Libyan people or to ensure that Qaddafi did not live long enough to squeal on him?
It must be acknowledged that Western powers have had few scruples about intervening in elections and political processes in Middle Eastern and other countries, including providing support for political parties. When the West does this, it is called “democracy building.” In the final analysis, the desired outcome is the same: A sympathetic if not compliant government with which it is easy and profitable to work.
The cold, hard fact is that politics is transactional and global actors will use whatever powers they have to influence other global actors to act in a way that is beneficial to them. Some transactional deals are, however, less legitimate than others.
The Sarkozy allegations point to the possible dark side of transactional politics. They may be, however, a mere drop in the bucket — we will never know how many instances are never uncovered — but they are a stark reminder, a splash of cold water that should lead to closer scrutiny and vigilance.