PARIS President Nicolas Sarkozy denied on Tuesday an allegation by the former head of French nuclear group Areva that he had sought to sell a nuclear reactor to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until mid-2010.
"There was never any question of selling a reactor to Mr. Gaddafi," Sarkozy told France Inter radio, a week after Anne Lauvergeon, Areva's chief executive until 2011, made the claim in an interview on the website of L'Express last Tuesday.
Lauvergeon, known as "Atomic Anne", was a top aide to late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and has been tipped as a possible minister in a future Socialist government under Francois Hollande.
Her allegation has been read as a political salvo coming as the conservative Sarkozy battles in vain to narrow Hollande's double-digit lead for a May 6 presidential runoff that will follow a first-round vote on Sunday.
"Allow me to tell you that if there is one head of state in the world who has not associated with Mr. Gaddafi and who is responsible for his departure and his fate then that is me," Sarkozy told France Inter.
Sarkozy led the West's intervention in Libya that helped rebels end Gaddafi's 42-year rule. But in 2007 he welcomed the late dictator to Paris. A nuclear cooperation agreement between the two nations signed in December that year and made available to the media at the time provides for the supply of reactors.
Sarkozy's aides have said Lauvergeon was trying to settle scores and said that if she had been witness to any misconduct in her former post, she should have reported it at the time.
Sarkozy has been pounding Hollande for months over his agreement with the Greens party to reduce France's dependency on nuclear power if the left wins the election and has visited nuclear sites to underline his support for the industry.
Relations between Sarkozy and Lauvergeon have soured to the point where he blocked her reappointment as chief executive last year and Areva initially withheld her 1.5 million euro ($2 million) severance pay in a dispute over a botched takeover of Canadian uranium mining start-up UraMin.
(Corrected year of nuclear cooperation agreement to 2007)
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Yann Le Guernigou; Editing by Louise Ireland)