Sarkozy aide's wife confirms bagman allegations

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The wife of a former close aide of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeated claims that her husband, charged in a damaging graft scandal, had returned from trips abroad with bags of cash.

In media interviews Princess Helene of Yugoslavia, estranged wife of Thierry Gaubert, also linked him with Nicolas Bazire, the best man at Sarkozy's wedding, and Ziad Takieddine, the alleged middleman in an arms deal with Pakistan.

All three men have been charged by police investigating alleged kickbacks on the arms deal and illegal funding of former prime minister Edouard Balladur's failed 1995 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy was the campaign's spokesman at the time of the alleged payments, as well as budget minister, but insists he had nothing to do with funding.

"I confirm what I said about my husband's trips, especially abroad," the princess told Europe 1 radio, saying he used to go from Paris to Geneva and back via London.

"There was money, but I don't know where it came from," she said. "There was my husband and Mr Takieddine."

In a separate interview with the daily Le Monde, Princess Helene, 45, said her husband "went to Switzerland about once every two months".

"He went systematically via London, telling me he wanted to avoid customs checks on the French-Swiss border," she added.

"He told me one day that he was going to fetch cash from Switzerland to give it to Nicolas Bazire."

Bazire, 54, the manager of Balladur's presidential campaign and now a director of luxury goods giant LVMH, and Gaubert, 60, an adviser to Sarkozy when he was budget minister, were charged this week with misuse of public funds.

Takieddine was charged last week with fraud over arms contracts with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in which he was allegedly the middleman.

Sarkozy allies have denounced what they claim is a plot against the French president expected to seek re-election next April. Opinion polls show he is likely to lose to the victor of the ongoing Socialist primary.

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