A probe into alleged illegal campaign funding linked to a deadly 2002 Pakistan bombing drew closer to Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday, with the French president's best man and a former aide detained.

"/> A probe into alleged illegal campaign funding linked to a deadly 2002 Pakistan bombing drew closer to Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday, with the French president's best man and a former aide detained.

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CORRUPTION

Corruption cops question Sarkozy’s best man

A probe into alleged illegal campaign funding linked to a deadly 2002 Pakistan bombing drew closer to Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday, with the French president's best man and a former aide detained.

Investigators are examining an alleged system whereby money paid in arms sales commissions — legal at the time — were channelled back into the illegal funding of political activities in France.

It is alleged that a bombing in Karachi that killed 11 French engineers in 2002 was revenge for the cancellation of commissions promised to officials involved in the sale of French submarines to Pakistan.

Magistrates are probing whether arms kickbacks were used to finance the 1994-95 presidential campaign of then-prime minister Edouard Balladur, whose budget minister and campaign spokesman was Sarkozy.

Police on Wednesday detained and questioned Balladur’s then-cabinet chief and presidential campaign manager Nicolas Bazire over the alleged illegal party financing, a judicial source said.

Police also searched the home and office of Bazire, today a top manager at luxury giant LVMH, who was also best man at Sarkozy’s 2008 wedding to former supermodel Carla Bruni.

Sarkozy’s communications advisor until the mid-1990s, Thierry Gaubert, is due to be questioned on Wednesday by a magistrate after he was detained for questioning on Monday.

The magistrate, Renaud van Ruymbeke, could charge Gaubert after their meeting.

Investigators are probing links between Gaubert and Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, who was charged last week with fraud over two arms contracts with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in which he was allegedly middleman.

A witness questioned by police on September 8th said Takieddine travelled several times to Switzerland in the mid-1990s with Gaubert to get cases of cash that were handed over to Bazire in Paris, news website Mediapart reported.

News weekly Nouvel Obs identified the witness as princess Helene of Yugoslavia, who went through a difficult divorce from Gaubert.

France’s Constitutional Court advised in vain as early as 1995 that Balladur’s campaign financing accounts be rejected because of question marks over where the cash came from. Balladur eventually lost the election to Jacques Chirac.

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CORRUPTION

Bolloré hits back at ‘condescending treatment of Africans’

French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has gone on the offensive over corruption charges brought against him over his business dealings in Africa, claiming the case was rooted in prejudice about the continent.

Bolloré hits back at 'condescending treatment of Africans'
Conakry, the port in Guinea at the centre of the graft accusations. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP
In an opinion article published on Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the head of the Bolloré Group, who was charged in connection with the awarding of two lucrative port concessions in West Africa, said the continent was wrongfully portrayed in France as a “land of misrule, even corruption”.
   
“People imagine heads of state deciding by themselves to award huge contracts to unscrupulous investors,” he wrote. 
   
Investigating magistrates on Thursday charged the 66-year-old over allegations that his group's communications arm undercharged the presidents of Guinea and Togo for work on their election campaigns as sweeteners for contracts to operate Conakry port and Lomé port.
   
Defending himself against the claims, Bolloré wrote: “Who could imagine that a few hundred thousand euros in spending on communications, which were accounted for in a transparent manner… determined hundreds of millions of euros in investment in port operations that require significant technical know-how, obtained through international tenders?”
   
Bolloré, one of France's most powerful businessmen, sits at the head of a sprawling business empire with revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.4 billion) in 2017 and interests in everything from construction and logistics to media, advertising and agriculture.
   
Africa accounts for about 20 percent of its turnover, excluding the Vivendi media group which is controlled by the family-run Bolloré Group.
 
France 'will need Africa'
 
In the letter titled “Should we get out of Africa?”, Bolloré said the French investigation had made him question whether he should pursue his activities on the continent, where he had invested 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).
   
“I have realised over the past few days that what we have been doing in good faith for a long time, seen through the prism of those who consider the continent to be run by lawless people, is fertile ground for legitimate  suspicion,” he wrote.
   
Slamming the “inaccurate and condescending treatment of Africans” he warned that “soon, France will need Africa more than the other way round.”  
 
The nearly 200-year-old Bolloré Group operates a dozen container ports in Africa and has stakes in several others, along with three railway concessions and interests in palm oil production.
   
Its communications arm Havas worked on Guinean President Alpha Condé's winning 2010 election campaign.
   
Months after taking office, Condé terminated the contract of Conakry's existing port operator and gave it to rival Bolloré. Havas also worked on the communications strategy of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.
   
After Gnassingbe's re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract. Both decisions were challenged by other bidders.
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