The 63-year-old Sarkozy, who was president from 2007-12, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The legal investigation is looking into these allegations, as well as a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy ally Claude Gueant, and the sale of a luxury villa in 2009 in the south of France to a Libyan investment fund for an allegedly inflated price.
In a report by The Guardian of London, another French-Lebanese businessman in 2016 publicly repeated claims that the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gave €50m (£43m) to fund Nicolas Sarkozy's successful 2007 campaign for the French presidency.
The charges are the most serious yet against the right-winger, who failed in his comeback bid past year.
Sarkozy has faced other campaign-related legal troubles in the past.
An investigation has been underway since 2013 into the case, involving funding for Sarkozy's winning 2007 presidential campaign.
He will have six months to appeal the charges, which is he is likely to do, and the judges will have to make a further decision about whether they have sufficient proof to take the case to trial.
Sarkozy was charged after having been in police custody since Tuesday morning for questioning by a special financial crimes unit, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the process is confidential.
"Mr Hortefeux again assured that there was no financing from Libya or any foreign country", his lawyer Jean-Yves Dupeux told AFP.
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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been handed preliminary charges over allegations he took millions of euros in illegal campaign funding from the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were driving Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that "Sarkozy must first give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign".
Sarkozy has already been ordered to stand trial in a separate matter concerning financing of his failed re-election campaign in 2012, when he was defeated by Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Libyan regime members who were furious over France's military intervention in Libya that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and led to his death. Sarkozy was interior minister at the time.
French media say it is the first time that police have detained Mr Sarkozy over the Libya allegations.
Sarkozy was grilled for a second full day on Wednesday by police investigating allegations that he received funding from the late Libyan leaderGaddafi.
It was not immediately clear when Sarkozy might know his fate, given that his questioners are free to stop the clock for breaks, sleep or longer timeouts between question-and-answer sessions before their 48-hour limit is up.
Sarkozy placed a distant third in 2016 in the primary to be the candidate of the center-right Republicans, after which he said he was quitting politics.
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