Sarkozy says no funding link to mentor's 1995 campaign
French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to distance himself from a growing party funding scandal Thursday, insisting he had no link to the financing of Edouard Balladur's 1995 presidential campaign.
Sarkozy was spokesman for his mentor Balladur during the failed candidacy and two of his closest aides -- including the best man at his wedding -- have been charged with graft relating to alleged kickbacks on an arms contract.
"Mr Nicolas Sarkozy did not manage Mr Edouard Balladur's campaign. He never exercised the slighest authority in the financing of this campaign," a terse statement from the Elysee Palace said.
The statement was released after 54-year-old Nicolas Bazire, who was best man at Sarkozy's wedding in 2008, was charged with misuse of public funds by magistrates investigating claims that graft financed Balladur's race.
Investigators suspect Balladur's camp collected kickbacks on a deal to sell submarines to Pakistan and that 11 French engineers died in a Karachi bombing carried out by Pakistani agents in revenge after promised bribes went unpaid.
Despite being a former close ally of Balladur, a lead figure in his failed campaign and a friend of many of those now under suspicion, Sarkozy has always denied any wrongdoing in the 1995 campaign finance arrangements.
This has not stopped suspicions generated by the case from tainting his own hopes for re-election in next April's presidential vote.
"As far as the so-called 'Karachi affair' is concerned, the head of state's name does not appear in any part of the dossier. His name has been cited by no witness nor actor in this case," the Elysee said.
The presidency's statement did not explain how it could know whether or not Sarkozy's name had come up in a supposedly secret independent judicial probe, a matter of hours after Bazire had been released from questioning.
"He has nothing to do with this, in particular because at the time, when he was budget minister, he showed his opposition to this contract," it said. "Everything else is just slander and petty political manipulation."
© 2011 AFP