Sarko facing money laundering charges

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iol pic wld sarko and wife REUTERS France's outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy and France's outgoing First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy leave the Elysee Palace at the end of a handover ceremony in Paris.

Barely an hour after former French president Nicolas Sarkozy left office on Tuesday, one of his former senior advisers revealed that he has been charged with money laundering.

Several of Sarkozy's allies have been implicated in a string of graft investigations and he could face questioning or even charges himself in a month's time when the judicial immunity he enjoyed as president expires.

In the latest twist, Thierry Gaubert, who was Sarkozy's adviser when he was mayor of Neuilly in 1983 and again when he was budget minister between 1993 and 1995, said he had been accused of laundering illegal campaign donations.

Gaubert had already been accused of embezzlement and interfering with a witness in the so-called “Karachi affair”, which revolves around alleged kickbacks on a deal to sell French submarines to Pakistan.

Investigators suspect the money was used to illegally fund former prime minister Edouard Balladur's failed 1995 presidential campaign, for which Sarkozy served as spokesman while still budget minister.

Gaubert's estranged wife, Helene Gaubert, has testified that her husband travelled to Geneva with arms dealer Ziad Takieddine to withdraw cash from a Swiss bank and bring it to Balladur's campaign director Nicolas Bazire.

Takieddine and Bazire have also been charged.

Gaubert denies any wrong doing and dismissed the latest charge as he left the investigating judge's office, telling AFP: “It's absurd to accuse me of spending money that I never received.”

Sarkozy has also long denied any implication in illegal party financing, in this and other cases, but he is expected to face at least questioning once his presidential immunity expires. - AFP

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