Documentary proof exists that France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy took more than €50 million ($78.8 million) from the late Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, a French judge has been told.
The claim, leaked this week, was made just before Christmas by Lebanese-born businessman Ziad Takieddine, who has been a fixer for legal - and allegedly illegal - dealings between France and the Middle East for 20 years.
Expanding on claims already made by one of Gaddafi's sons and a French investigative website, Takieddine told an investigative judge he could show him written proof that Sarkozy's first presidential campaign in 2006-7 was "abundantly" financed by Tripoli. The payments, he said, continued after Sarkozy was elected.
In total, he said, they exceeded the €50 million in illegal payments to Sarkozy claimed by Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam just before the demise of the Libyan regime - thanks partly to French and British airstrikes - in 2011.
Takieddine's claims were rejected this week as "outrageous" and "self-interested" by sources close to Sarkozy. Last year, when he was still President, Sarkozy denounced a similar claim by the investigative website Mediapart as "grotesque".
The Lebanese businessman is himself under formal investigation for allegedly organising and receiving illegal kickbacks on arms deals over two decades. He admitted on Thursday that his allegations were part of a proposed trade-off with the French judicial system.
He told the newspaper Le Parisien he was ready to show investigators proof of Gaddafi's alleged financial dealings with Sarkozy if a judicial investigation was launched into Libya's financing of French politicians. This implied he was trying to minimise allegations against him, dating back to 1993, by igniting, or reigniting, allegations which were more recent and more explosive.
"Yes, Libya financed Sarkozy," Takieddine told Le Parisien.
The claims, however self-interested they may be, are deeply embarrassing for Sarkozy. Takieddine had close business and personal relations for many years with a string of centre-right politicians, including the former President's childhood friend, Brice Hortefeux, his close ally and former Interior Minister, Claude Gueant and the current head of Sarkozy's centre-right party, Jean-Francois Cope. He is also known to have played a significant role in Sarkozy's dealings with Gaddafi to free Bulgarian nurses falsely imprisoned in Libya in 2007.
Sarkozy already faces separate allegations that his party - possibly without his knowledge - took illegal campaign contributions from France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, in 2007.
Allegations of illicit dealings with Gaddafi are especially sensitive for the former French President. With British Prime Minister David Cameron, he organised and led the international support for the Libyan opposition which eventually led to Gaddafi's downfall and death in October 2011.
Before that, however, Sarkozy puzzled many of his own supporters by granting Gaddafi an obsequious and glittering state visit to France in December 2007. It later emerged that a number of contracts had been signed by France and Libya.
Takieddine is under formal investigation for alleged offences including receiving illegal kickbacks on French arms deals to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 1993-5. In a meeting on December 19 to discuss these allegations with Judge Renaud van Ruymbeke, Takieddine offered written evidence of kickbacks to Sarkozy's 2007 campaign. He said there had been a series of meetings to organise the payments in 2006-2007 between Gueant, then Sarkozy's chief of staff, and Gaddafi's private secretary, Bashir Saleh.
Written accounts of these meetings, Takieddine told the judge, had been handed to former Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi al-Mahmoudhi. After the Libyan revolution, Mr Mahmoudhi sought and received unofficial asylum in France. He has recently been returned to Tripoli by Tunisia, having left France after Mr Sarkozy lost the presidential election in June last year.