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Former French leader Sarkozy held over Libyan funding inquiry

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PARIS — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was held in custody on Tuesday and questioned by magistrates investigating whether late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi helped finance his 2007 election campaign, an official in the French judiciary said.

It is the second major judicial investigation to fall on the 63-year-old, who served as president from 2007-2012. He already faces trial on separate charges of illicit spending overruns during his failed re-election campaign in 2012.

A lawyer for Sarkozy could not immediately be reached for comment. The former president has dismissed the Libya allegations as “grotesque” and a ‘crude manipulation’.

France opened an inquiry into the Libya case in 2013, after reports by French website Mediapart based on claims by a Franco-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he had transferred 5 million euros ($6 million) from Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi to Sarkozy’s campaign director.

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Months after he took office in 2007, the French leader came in for criticism for hosting a state visit by Gaddafi during which the Libyan leader pitched his trademark Bedouin-style tent next to the Elysee Palace.

Gaddafi’s first visit to a Western leader in decades, which was accompanied by the signing of several business deals, came after Sarkozy helped get five Bulgarian nurses accused of infecting children with HIV released from jail in Libya.

Sarkozy was later one of the chief advocates of a NATO-led military campaign that resulted in Gaddafi’s overthrow and killing at the hands of rebel forces in 2011.

French judicial procedure allows for investigators to hold a person for questioning for up to 48 hours, after which the magistrates must say whether they have grounds for turning a preliminary inquiry into a full investigation.

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China conduct live fire drill along southeast coastline

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BEIJING — China’s military has conducted live-fire drills along the southeast coastline, state television reported, but it was unclear if these were the same exercises that had been flagged as taking place in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

The government had said the drills would happen on Wednesday off the city of Quanzhou, in between two groups of islands close to China’s coast but that Taiwan has controlled since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war.

Chinese state media has said the drills were a direct response to “provocations” by Taiwan leaders related to what China fears are moves to push for the self-ruled island’s formal independence. China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory.

Late on Wednesday, Chinese state television showed footage of helicopters firing missiles during an exercise it said was happening on China’s southeast coast.

State television only showed pictures of helicopters, with no mention of ships or other military equipment such as tanks or amphibious assault vehicles.

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The exercises took place from 8 a.m. (0000GMT) until midnight, the report said, giving the same time frame for the previously announced drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the exercise, and whether it was the same ones previously reported to be happening in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan on Wednesday denounced the exercises, saying Beijing was using “cheap verbal intimidation and saber rattling” to threaten the island.

Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan in the past year, including flying bombers around the island.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday afternoon two Chinese H-6K bombers had flown around the island, passing first through the Miyako Strait to Taiwan’s northeast and then back to base via the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.

The latest Chinese military movements come during a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island and follows strong warnings by Chinese President Xi Jinping against Taiwan separatism last month.

China claims Taiwan as its own and considers it a breakaway province.

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