The money was paid by the Geneva-based Global Fund to fight Aids for a campaign called Born HIV-free, which aimed to raise awareness of transmission of HIV from mothers to children.
Bruni-Sarkozy is an ambassador for the fund.
The Global Fund is no stranger to corruption charges.
In January 2011 an Associated Press report cited widespread corruption in some of the fund’s programmes, prompting a statement that it has “zero tolerance” for graft.
But her Fondation Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has no proper legal status, no bank account and opaque accounts, according to the weekly magazine Marianne.
The foundation is effectively run by the Fondation de France, an independent body originally set up by the French government, the magazine says.
And, it charges, the money was passed on “at the limits of legality and without an invitation for bids” to companies belonging to Bruni-Sarkozy’s friend, Julien Civange, a musician and businessman who is said to be the “principal adviser” to her foundation and to have an office at the Elysée presidential palace.
Although the Global Fund is largely financed by governments, Bruni-Sarkozy on Saturday said that her foundation had “never received […] any public money” and insisted that her foundation does have its own accounts, “consolidated in fine at the Fondation de France”.
Fondation Carla Bruni-Sarkozy secretary general Cléa Martinet slammed the article as “untruthful on several points”.
A statement by the Global Fund dubs Marianne’s report “untruthful and misleading”.
It acknowledged having financed the Born HIV-free campaign to the tune of 2.8 million dollars (2.2 million euros), “significantly less than claimed by Marianne”.
“All the contracts for the campaign and for the support of a Global Fund-focused section on the Carlabrunisarkozy.org web site, and costs related to Ms Bruni-Sarkozy’s travel related to the Global Fund were in full compliance with Global Fund’s stringent rules and procedures,” the statement says.
The fund says that it paid Civange and four colleagues 580,000 euros over 18 months to jointly run the campaign.
French ambassador to the fund Patrice Debré was fired by the French president after details of the campaign were revealed at the Global Fund’s board, according to Marianne.
It also claims that Global Fund director general, Michel Kazatchkine, another friend of Bruni-Sarkozy, has been sidelined in response to calls to resign by reporesentatives of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
He will officially quit in late May, after the forthcoming French presidential election.