PARIS - Former French president Jacques Chirac and his prime minister Dominique de Villepin have denied accusations by a one-time aide that they took millions of dollars in illicit cash handouts from African leaders.
In explosive, if hard to verify, testimony seven months ahead of a presidential election, lawyer Robert Bourgi told a radio station on Monday that he had handed them some $20 million from heads of state of former French colonies. The secret campaign donations were sometimes concealed in African drums or crammed into suitcases. Both Chirac and Villepin plan to sue.
Bourgi also advised President Nicolas Sarkozy but denied passing cash to him, a denial questioned by others, including supporters of Villepin, whose potential challenge to Sarkozy at April's election would follow years of bitter in-fighting in the Gaullist movement that long dominated the French center-right.
Sarkozy's aides denied he had any link to the allegations, though his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, was quick to forecast that the affair would hurt the president's campaign.