PARIS, March 9 (UPI) — French former Interior Minister Claude Gueant has been officially charged with tax evasion and forgery amid a probe into the financial relationship between former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
The criminal investigation, one of dozens, stems from allegations of financial wrong-doing by Sarkozy and his associates, including an accusation that Tripoli gave millions of euros to the 2007 Sarkozy presidential campaign.
Gueant was arrested Friday and detained for more than 30 hours by French authorities before being officially charged with “conspiracy to evade taxes” and forgery.
His attorney spoke out about the shifting focus of the investigation following the charges.
“Instead of the so-called Libyan financing of the presidential campaign, we have a simple case of asking him to explain the sale of these famous paintings he acquired 22 years ago,” Gueant’s lawyer Philippe Bouchez el-Ghozi told LCI television.
At issue is the transfer of 500,000 euros into Gueant’s bank account from outside France. Who wired the money, and for what purpose?
Gueant has dismissed allegations the money was transferred by Gaddafi for use in the Sarkozy campaign. Instead, he maintains the transfer was payment for the sale of two paintings by 17th century Dutch artist Andries van Eertvelt to a Malaysian businessman.
The magistrates question that assertion, citing the significantly lower retail value of such paintings and Gueant’s inability to provide proof of the sale.
“I made the deal under personal circumstances, but I am not an art investor,” said the former interior minister.
“They are asking him simply to justify this sale and they blame him for not having declared the revenue,” Gueant’s lawyer said, dismissing the broader reach of the initial investigation.
Gueant was interior minister from 2011 to 2012 and Sarkozy’s chief of staff from 2007 to 2011.