Pressure grows on Sarkozy over Karachi kickbacks

PARIS (Reuters) – A corruption investigation is circling closer to President Nicolas Sarkozy as a third ally comes under pressure in the so-called “Karachi Affair”, accused of alerting a friend in police custody to secret witness testimony.

A preliminary judicial inquiry opened on Friday into the leak after French media reported that presidential adviser Brice Hortefeux had told Thierry Gaubert, another Sarkozy ally, about secret testimony made against Gaubert by Gaubert’s wife.

The implication of Hortefeux, a former interior minister in Sarkozy’s conservative government, has intensified focus on the sprawling Karachi Affair, a corruption case linked to arms sales and a deadly bombing in Pakistan in 2002.

Sarkozy’s office issued a statement this week, seven months before he is expected to run for re-election, saying he had nothing to do with any aspect of the case.

While there is no direct legal risk to Sarkozy, who cannot be prosecuted in office, growing interest in the case could crimp a meagre revival in his poll scores as it spreads to another of his allies.

The Karachi Affair refers to an investigation into a 2002 Karachi bombing that killed 15 people including 11 French nationals. Investigators suspect the bombing was a reprisal for former president Jacques Chirac’s decision to stop paying commissions to Pakistan on submarine sales.

Judges suspect a number of French conservative politicians received kickbacks from the sales and used the proceeds to help to finance Edouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy was budget minister under Balladur and spokesman for his campaign.

The investigation opened on Friday by a Paris judge will seek to determine how the secret testimony linked to the Karachi Affair was leaked.

Hortefeux, Sarkozy’s interior minister until February, denied media allegations that he had known details of the witness report before they were reported by French media, and offered on Friday to speak to a judge about the alleged leak.

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