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Former French leader Sarkozy held over Libyan funding inquiry

Thompson Reuters

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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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Thai authorities launch search for youth soccer team trapped in cave

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BANGKOK — Search and rescue teams on Sunday are looking for a dozen members of a youth soccer team who are missing since late Saturday afternoon, believed to be trapped in a cave in northern Thailand.

Police said local authorities, police and rescue workers were working with divers to find the 12 boys, aged 11-15, and their coach, who are believed to have entered the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province.

The group were apparently trapped when a heavy storm flooded a stream at the cave’s entrance.

Police Colonel Komsan Saardluan said parts of the cave, which is an estimated 6-8 kilometres long, get flooded to a height of as much as 5 metres during the rainy season, which runs from June through to October.

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Footage on Thai television showed bikes and backpacks left at the cave entrance. ThaiPBS television reported the team members came from various schools in the province and were thought to have been practicing before going to the park where the cave is located.

The search began around midnight on Saturday after police received a report of a missing child from a mother who said her son had not returned from the soccer practice that evening, ThaiPBS reported.

It said the mother last spoke to her son when he told her in the afternoon he was with the group visiting a cave inside the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district.

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