Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy defended himself against allegations that he accepted millions of euros in illegal campaign funding from late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a televised interview on Thursday.
"It might take me one, two, 10 years but I'll smash this group [of accusers] and will restore my honour," Sarkozy said in a live television interview on French channel TF1. "I don't plan to give an inch!"
"It's an ignominious act, not [just] a lie," Sarkozy said of the allegations. "I owe the French people the truth: I never betrayed their trust."
"I'm not above the law, but I'm not below it either," added Sarkozy, 63.
Having already stepped away from public life after a shortlived bid at a political comeback in the 2016 presidential race, Sarkozy affirmed that his life in politics "is finished".
The interview was broadcast a day after the one-term president was placed under formal investigation in connection with allegations he illegally financed his successful 2007 campaign for the French presidency with suitcases of Libyan cash. Being placed under "formal investigation" in France indicates that magistrates have found sufficient evidence of wrongdoing – in this case of illegal campaign financing, "passive" corruption and the misuse of Libyan public funds – that the investigation can go forward, possibly to trial.
The many legal battles of France’s Sarkozy
According to reports in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday, Sarkozy said in a statement to investigating judges that he had been "accused without any physical evidence".
He went on to say he has been "living in hell" because of this "slander" since 2011 and denounced the accusations as lies, according to a text of the statement published by Le Figaro.
Sarkozy's entourage did not confirm the authenticity of Le Figaro's version of the text but did not specifically dispute it.
The former president also told investigators that he believes the allegations had cost him his re-election bid in 2012 when they re-emerged during the campaign.
Investigators are examining allegations that Gaddafi's regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50 million ($62 million) for his 2007 presidential election bid. The claims were first made in 2011 by Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam. An investigation into the case has been under way since 2013.
'Of all Sarkozy's investigations, this could be the most damaging'
The investigation got a fresh boost when French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the investigative website Mediapart in 2016 that he delivered suitcases from Libya containing €5 million in cash to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff, Claude Guéant.
Takieddine reiterated his allegations during a live interview with France's BFM TV on Wednesday night. He claimed he personally handed a suitcase containing €2 million in cash to Sarkozy at the then candidate's apartment and another suitcase with €1.5 million to Sarkozy and a close aide when Sarkozy was interior minister.
Video: France 24's 2012 interview with Ziad Takieddine
Takieddine alleged he gave a third suitcase with €1.5 million in cash to the aide alone. He said the money was not meant to finance Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007 but to honour contracts between France and Libya.
"Mr. Takieddine lies," Sarkozy told the investigating judges, according to Le Figaro.
As France's president from 2007 to 2012, Sarkozy's France was at the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gaddafi's troops that helped various factions of rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.
“I’ve been accused by the inner circle of a dictator,” Sarkozy said in his defence on Thursday. “And along with the international coalition, under the UN mandate, I destroyed his reign of terror.”
Investigating magistrates will decide at the next stage of the probe whether to recommend that Sarkozy face trial.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)