Nicolas Sarkozy case: ‘paparazzi queen’ in custody over alleged witness tampering

A French businesswoman known as the “paparazzi queen” is being questioned by police over alleged witness tampering in a case against the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Michèle Marchand, known as Mimi, a powerful figure in the French celebrity press, was taken into custody with the Paris Match journalist François de Labarre, who was later released without charge.

The investigation concerns an interview the magazine published with the French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine, one of the main witnesses against Sarkozy, who is accused of accepting millions from the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

While Marchand was being questioned, detectives searched her home. The investigative website Mediapart, which broke the story of Marchand and Labarre being taken into custody, said the inquiry centred on alleged “underground negotiations” with Takieddine for him to withdraw his allegations.

On Friday, detectives were interviewing four more people, including Arnaud de la Villesbrunne, the former director at the Publicis agency, who was involved in Sarkozy’s unsuccessful 2012 reelection bid, on allegations of witness tampering and criminal conspiracy.

Takieddine, 70, who was close to the Gaddafi regime, had alleged he delivered suitcases stuffed with cash from Tripoli to Sarkozy’s chief-of-staff in 2006-7. In Labarre’s “exclusive” Paris Match interview in November – which was accompanied by pictures taken by a photographer from the BestImage agency run by Marchand – Takieddine retracted his claims. Afterwards, Sarkozy, 66, went on television to express his anger at having been “dragged through the mud”, declaring: “The truth is out.”

But when interviewed by investigators in Beirut in January, Takieddine claimed the magazine had misrepresented what he had said, and reiterated his claims that Sarkozy had received money from Gaddafy. “Paris Match belongs to one of Sarkozy’s friends; they deformed my words,” he told them, according to AFP.

Paris Match condemned the arrest of its journalist and said the police action was “contrary to all democratic principles”.

Quick Guide

Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal problems


Judge bribery

Sarkozy was convicted of corruption on 1 March over claims he had offered a plum job in Monaco to a judge for information about a separate inquiry into the financing of his successful 2007 election campaign. 

Libya funding

Since 2013, investigating magistrates have been examining allegations that the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime helped finance Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.

Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam was the first to air the claims in 2011, when he said Sarkozy should “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”. A year later, the website Mediapart published a document saying that Gaddafi had agreed to support Sarkozy with up to €50m.

Sarkozy was charged in 2018 with taking bribes, illegal campaign financing and illegal receipt of Libyan funds. In October 2020, he was further charged with conspiring to commit a crime.

Bettencourt affair

In another controversy linked to the 2007 campaign, Sarkozy’s then-UMP party was accused of accepted illicit payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt in cash-filled envelopes.

After a lengthy investigation that he claimed was politically motivated, Sarkozy was cleared of taking advantage of Bettencourt while she was too frail to understand what she was doing. 

Bygmalion affair

Sarkozy faces trial in March and April over the illegal funding of his failed 2012 re-election bid, which featured huge US-style stadium rallies.

His campaign overshot strict French campaign spending limits by a wide margin, a fact that was allegedly hidden through a system of fake invoices that were fraudulently passed off as party expenses. Sarkozy has denied any knowledge of the alleged fraud which is known as the “Bygmalion” affair.

Exceeding campaign spending limits carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine.

Karachi affair

A long-running investigation that involves two former Sarkozy aides, charged by judges probing alleged kickbacks from a Pakistani arms deal concluded when Sarkozy was budget minister.

A shell company was allegedly used to channel kickbacks to then prime minister Edouard Balladur’s unsuccessful 1995 presidential bid, which Sarkozy helped run.

Sarkozy has been interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.

At Balladur’s trial, prosecutors asked for the 91-year-old to be sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of €50,000.

More influence-peddling

French financial crime prosecutors said in January 2021 they had opened a probe into influence-peddling against Sarkozy over advisory activities he carried out in Russia.

The Mediapart website said the probe targeted a payment by Russian insurance firm Reso-Garantia of €3m in 2019 while Sarkozy was working as an adviser, well after leaving office.

It said investigators were trying to verify whether Sarkozy acted only as a consultant – which would be perfectly legal – “or if he engaged in potentially criminal lobbying activities on behalf of the Russian oligarchs”. Agence France-Presse

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Marchand, 74, is reportedly friends with Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, and had previously organised press coverage for Sarkozy’s wife, the singer and supermodel Carla Bruni.

During Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign, Marchand was credited with popularising the centrist candidate and his wife, persuading Brigitte to be photographed in a swimsuit in what were claimed to be “secretly taken” pictures. When Macron won, Marchand was pictured in the president’s office making a “v” sign.

The Libyan case is just one of a series of investigations centred on Sarkozy. In March, he was found guilty of “corruption” and “influence-peddling” and sentenced to three years in prison – two of them suspended – after instructing his lawyer to offer a senior magistrate a cushy job in exchange for information about a separate legal case into political donations. Sarkozy, who has repeatedly declared he has committed no wrongdoing, has appealed.


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