Paris (CNN) — Former French president Jacques Chirac and presidential hopeful Dominique de Villepin received “suitcases of cash” from African leaders to fund their electoral campaigns, a former political aide alleged over the weekend.
Robert Bourgi, a French-Lebanese lawyer and now a political aide to President Nicolas Sarkozy, told CNN on Monday that Chirac and Villepin received an estimated $20 million between 1995 and 2005.
Bourgi said however that he has “no evidence, no trace” to back up his claims.
Lawyers for both Chirac and Villepin said Sunday they intended to file defamation complaints against Bourgi after he first made the explosive comments in an interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche.
Bourgi told the newspaper that he had personally delivered suitcases “not containing less than 5 million francs” to Chirac during his time as mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.
His allegations come seven months before the presidential elections in which Villepin, leader of his own centre-right party République Solidaire, is seen as an emerging rival to Sarkozy.
Bourgi said that Villepin was an avid art collector and he received “rare items of value including African masks. Villepin denied the claims on Sunday calling them “false” and “outrageous” on France3 television.
Bourgi told CNN that he had last seen Villepin in 2005 and the former leader told Bourgi that “he didn’t want the issue to get in the way of his 2007 presidential bid.”
Asked why he had not brought up his claims earlier, Bourgi said: “My conscience will carry me, and I decided today was the day.”
“I am not here on [President] Sarkozy’s behalf, I am just a simple lawyer,” he told French reporters on Monday outside his office in an attempt to distance his remarks from the current president.
Bourgi told CNN he simply wanted “for his children and grandchildren a clean France,” free from corrupt “practices that existed under (Georges) Pompidou, (Valéry) Giscard d’Estaing and even in the days of (François) Mitterrand.”
He added that “these practices existed for the profit of all political parties, on the Right and on the Left.”
Bourgi said that it was only in 2007 when Sarkozy was elected that the corruption came to an end. He said that the president told him that “I want your expertise and your African contacts but these practices I absolutely do not want.”
Bourgi told CNN he is not worried about the pending complaints against him.
“I am happy that Mr. Chirac has decided to file a defamation complaint against me and I’m happy for him and his family that he has suddenly regained his memory,” Bourgi said, referring to Chirac’s alleged ailing condition which prevented him from appearing last week at a court case concerning fictitious jobs while he was mayor of Paris.