France - 
Article published the Saturday 24 November 2012 - Latest update : Saturday 24 November 2012

Sarkozy denies receiving cash from France's richest woman

Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy.


Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has told Bordeaux judges that he didn’t receive any money from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, in a case implicating him for illegal funding of his 2007 presidential campaign. Judges on Thursday decided to treat Sarkozy as a witness under caution, instead of formally charging him.

“I have known the Bettencourts for 28 years and I am 57... They have never
given me a cent and I have never asked them,” said Sarkozy during the 12-hour hearing, which put him before three examining magistrates.

The newspaper Sud-Ouest was the first to quote the former president, after viewing the written transcript from the confidential session.

While Sarkozy escaped indictment on Thursday, he will be investigated as a witness under caution over the allegations against him.

The judge’s decision allows a possibility for Sarkozy’s eventual exoneration, but equally shows that magistrates believe there is reason for further investigation into his role in the Bettencourt affair.

Dossier: The Bettencourt scandal

Sarkozy is accused of taking advantage of a person in a position of weakness, when a large sum of money was handed to his then-campaign treasurer by way of Bettencourt’s accountant back in 2007.

It is alleged that the sum was moved without Bettencourt’s consent. Bettencourt, who is now 90 years old, suffers from dementia and has been in poor health since 2006.

The Sud-Ouest reported that Sarkozy said he hadn’t noticed any “apparent sign” of mental fragility on the part of Bettencourt.

“"When I see her she was well-dressed, she doesn't slur her words. She says
nothing implausible," Sarkozy was quoted as saying.

Sarkozy is also accused of taking campaign funding over the legal limit.

Bettencourt’s former accountant Claire Thibout told police that she gave envelopes filled with cash to Bettencourt’s right-hand man Patrice de Maistre. The money, equalling 150,000 euros, was then passed on to Sarkozy’s then-campaign treasurer, Eric Woerth.

Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing in the case, and while he has narrowly escaped indictment, his role in the Bettencourt affair could potentially dash any hopes of a political comeback in 2017.

tags: Bordeaux - France - Liliane Bettencourt - Nicolas Sarkozy - Presidential election - Trial
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