A Libyan dictator, a drowned witness, an arms broker who says he delivered suitcases of cash: the corruption scandal engulfing French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy involves a cast to rival that of a Hollywood thriller.
Sarkozy, a combative rightwinger who served one term from 2007-2012, has furiously denied claims that his first election campaign was funded by millions in illicit donations from former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The 63-year-old was charged Wednesday with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money.
In his court statement, he complained he had been in "living hell" since the allegations emerged in 2011 -- going so far as to blame them for his failure to win re-election in 2012.
Socialist rival Francois Hollande ended up beating him with 51.6 percent of the vote, with Sarkozy taking a hit from left-leaning voters who viewed him as a "president of the rich".
Nicknamed the "bling-bling" president, Sarkozy was known for his flashy displays of wealth.
He attempted a comeback in last year's presidential election but did not even manage to clinch his Republicans party's nomination.
His various legal woes, including the Libya scandal, played a major role in Francois Fillon securing the rightwing nomination instead.
After ruling Libya with an iron fist for 41 years, Kadhafi met a bloody end in 2011 at the hands of rebel fighters.
His death came in the midst of a NATO military intervention -- led by Sarkozy's France.
It was a sharp turnaround from 2007 when Sarkozy raised eyebrows internationally by giving Kadhafi the red-carpet treatment during a state visit.
Critics denounced the trip, during which Kadhafi pitched his famous bedouin tent next to the Elysee Palace, as an attempt to rehabilitate a pariah long accused of human rights abuses.
Claims that Kadhafi fronted Sarkozy millions of euros would suggest the leader was keen to win a friend in Europe as he sought to come in from the cold.
Sarkozy rejects allegations from Kadhafi-era officials that they funded his campaign as vindictive lies in retaliation for his role in ousting the dictator.
Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine claims he delivered three suitcases containing a total of five million euros ($6 million) to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
Sarkozy was interior minister at the time.
Takieddine, a controversial millionaire well-connected in French rightwing circles, has worked as a broker in international business deals, including in arms.
Takieddine has been charged over the Libya affair and is also being investigated in another case for which Sarkozy has been interviewed as a witness -- alleged kickbacks on a Pakistani arms deal.
Sarkozy has blasted Takieddine as "highly suspect", while the businessman has hit back: "I'm not the liar here."
Claude Gueant, Sarkozy's former chief of staff at the Elysee Palace, is accused of receiving some of the cash.
He also received a 500,0000-euro bank transfer in 2008 from a Malaysian company which he said was from the sale of two paintings.
Investigators were not convinced, however, and he has been charged with tax fraud.
According to police documents seen by the investigative website Mediapart, he was found to have withdrawn only 800 euros in cash from his known bank accounts between 2003-2012 and also paid for a 720,000-euro Parisian apartment in cash.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
Former interior minister Brice Hortefeux has also been questioned over a document published by Mediapart purporting to show he met in 2006 with Kadhafi's intelligence chief and the head of Libya's sovereign wealth fund.
Meanwhile, the treasurer of Sarkozy's 2007 campaign, prominent rightwing MP Eric Woerth, has admitted the campaign received cash payments which he said were anonymous donations received by post.
Other witnesses have rejected this, including a staffer who said they never saw any envelopes of cash arriving.
Bashir Saleh, who ran Libya's sovereign wealth fund under Kadhafi, is wanted for questioning in France.
He initially sought refuge in France after Kadhafi's downfall but fled when Tripoli issued an international arrest warrant against him.
Now in exile, he was injured in a shooting in South Africa in February.
A second senior Kadhafi loyalist, former oil minister Shukri Ghanem, was found drowned in the Danube river in Vienna in 2012.
Documents belonging to Ghanem refer to three payments in 2007 to Sarkozy for at least 6.5 million euros.
Alexandre Djouhri, another controversial businessman, is suspected of having been the true owner of a villa on France's glitzy Cote d'Azur that was sold to a fund managed by Saleh in 2009.
The house was sold at a suspiciously high price, leading investigators to question if it could have been used to funnel illicit payments into France.
Djouhri is also accused of helping Saleh flee the country on a private jet.
He was arrested in London in January. He is currently in hospital with heart problems, and is due to learn in July if he will be extradited to France.