Sarkozy linked to L`Oreal cash scandal

President Nicolas Sarkozy was directly linked for the first time to L`Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt`s murky finances today, with claims his presidential campaign received 150,000 euros in cash.

Updated: Jul 06, 2010, 19:32 PM IST

Paris: President Nicolas Sarkozy was directly linked for the first time to L`Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt`s murky finances today, with claims his presidential campaign received 150,000 euros in cash.

An aide to Sarkozy dismissed the latest reports as "totally false", as the French government was drawn deeper into a series of scandals that had already embroiled his labour minister and seen two other ministers resign.

An accountant, identified by the investigative website Mediapart as Claire T, said Eric Woerth, a Sarkozy ally and treasurer of his UMP party, received the donation in March 2007, ahead of Sarkozy`s election victory in May.

The accountant`s lawyer, Antoine Gillot, confirmed his client had told police investigating Bettencourt`s finances about the alleged payment.

Woerth has since served as Sarkozy`s budget minister and is now his labour minister, and faces calls for his resignation after he was accused of conflict of interest in his relations with Bettencourt, France`s richest woman.

The accountant also claimed that Sarkozy himself was a regular visitor at the Bettencourt family home, where he too allegedly received envelopes of cash when he was mayor of the town of Neuilly, west of Paris.

The allegations hit Sarkozy at a crucial time as he struggles with plunging popularity and difficult economic reforms while eyeing re-election in 2012.

His approval ratings are at an all time low of 26 per cent, and a poll conducted by Vivavoice and the daily
Liberation just before the ministers` resignations found 64 per cent of voters think the political class corrupt.

If the allegations are confirmed, the party payments would be illegal, surpassing the limit of 7,500 euros permitted for political donations to parties and 4,600 euros to individuals.

PTI