Sarkozy`s best man charged in kickback probe
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Last Updated: Thursday, September 22, 2011, 21:14
Paris: Fresh sleaze claims hit French President Nicolas Sarkozy's re-election hopes on Thursday when the best man at his wedding was charged with graft by judges probing alleged kickbacks on an arms deal.

Just seven months before the French leader is to go to the country to seek another five-year mandate, Nicolas Bazire became the latest in a string of close allies to be confronted by a criminal investigation.

Allegations that a 1995 presidential campaign by Sarkozy's mentor Edouard Balladur was funded through a Pakistani submarine contract follow claims members of the President's party received brown envelopes from an heiress.

Sarkozy's camp could also find itself implicated in allegations that a rival centre-right group supporting his predecessor as French leader Jacques Chirac received suitcases of cash from African leaders.

Bazire, a businessman and former government official who was best man at Sarkozy's wedding to supermodel Carla Bruni in February 2008, was detained yesterday and questioned overnight before being charged.

Bazire's lawyer, Jean-Yves Lienard, said that during questioning and prior to his release on bail his client affirmed his "total lack of involvement" in the matter and branded witness claims to the contrary "fantasist".

Another Sarkozy ally, Thierry Gaubert, was charged yesterday as part of the probe into the Pakistani deal. Both men are now subject to judicial probes into "misuse of public funds" and could face trial, judicial sources said.

Prosecutors suspect middlemen paid huge kickbacks on the Pakistani contract to former prime minister Balladur's 1995 presidential campaign, for which the then budget minister Sarkozy served as chief spokesman.

Bazire, 54, was Balladur's one time chief of staff and campaign manager. Gaubert worked for Sarkozy when he was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly and was his communications adviser as minister.

Witnesses have told investigators Bazire had a large safe stuffed with cash during the 1995 campaign. He is now a member of the board of luxury goods giant LVMH, whose shares dropped 6.1 per cent today in a falling market.

Controversy over the arms contract erupted when investigators began probing whether a 2002 bomb attack in Karachi that killed 11 French engineers working on the project was a revenge attack for promised bribes not paid.


First Published: Thursday, September 22, 2011, 21:14

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