The prosecutor’s office in Paris has started an inquiry into allegations by lawyer Robert Bourgi that former President Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin were given up to 20 million dollars by African leaders.
Bourgi, an aide to the president at the time, says he was personally involved in handing over briefcases full of cash to Chirac, who has denied the charges and threatened to sue. Villepin, a possible presidential candidate, has also denied the claims.
The countries Bourgi claims handed over the money are former colonies Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Congo and Gabon. He says the money was partly used to finance election campaigns.
Bourgi says Villepin dropped contact with him in 2005 and that he then worked for President Sarkozy in a similar informal advisory capacity.
Villepin is seen as a centre right rival to Sarkozy, if he decides to stand in the presidential election in seven months time.