Police step up Sarkozy illegal funding probe
Police on Friday searched the home and office of a financial adviser to France`s richest woman as part of a probe into alleged illegal donations to President Nicolas Sarkozy`s campaign, officials said.
Paris: Police on Friday searched the home and
office of a financial adviser to France`s richest woman as
part of a probe into alleged illegal donations to President
Nicolas Sarkozy`s campaign, officials said.
The search of Patrice de Maistre`s residence and firm
came a day after police questioned the ex-accountant to
Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L`Oreal cosmetics empire,
about her allegations of cash gifts to Sarkozy.
Prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation
into claims by the accountant of a USD 190,000 donation from
Bettencourt given to Eric Woerth, Sarkozy`s campaign
fundraiser in 2007 who is now labour minister.
The scandal is the latest blow to Sarkozy, whose
approval ratings are at an all-time low and who is battling to
save Woerth over conflict of interest allegations linked to
the 87-year-old billionaire.
The architect of pension reform, Woerth is to present
a bill to cabinet next week that will raise the legal
retirement age and push through a centerpiece of Sarkozy`s
agenda as he heads for a re-election fight in 2012.
Woerth has strenuously denied taking any illegal
donations from Bettencourt and Sarkozy has dismissed the
claims as a smear campaign, but the scandal has sparked calls
for the high-profile minister to resign.
The accountant, Claire Thibout, told police during
three hours of questioning yesterday that the financial
adviser had asked her "before the presidential election to go
pick up 150,000 euros at the bank" according to a transcript
obtained by the Mediapart website.
"When I asked him what the money was for, he said that
he had a dinner planned with Mr Woerth to give it to him," she
But Thibout denied a report in Mediapart that Sarkozy
was a regular visitor at Bettencourt`s villa in the chic Paris
suburb of Neuilly when he was mayor of the town and that he
often received cash envelopes.
"I never said that envelopes were regularly passsed on
to Mr Sarkozy," she said.