Saturday 21 October 2017

Police raid Sarkozy's home in political fund probe

Journalists press a buzzer at the entrance of a building which houses the new offices of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters
Journalists press a buzzer at the entrance of a building which houses the new offices of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters

Henry Samuel in Paris

Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's home and offices were raided by police yesterday in a dramatic development in a political funding scandal.

Magistrates are investigating claims that house staff of Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics empire and France's richest woman, handed over brown envelopes stuffed with cash to Mr Sarkozy and his aides to finance his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

Officers raided a town mansion belonging to Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy where the former first couple live, as well as the law firm where Mr Sarkozy used to be an associate, and the offices he is entitled to as former head of state.

Advantage

Mr Sarkozy lost his presidential immunity on June 16, and there had been speculation that Jean-Michel Gentil, a Bordeaux judge, would approach him as part of the illegal cash donation inquiry. The judge is also investigating whether Mrs Bettencourt's entourage is guilty of "abuse of weakness" -- taking advantage of her waning mental capacities for financial gain. Eleven people have already been charged in the case.

Mr Sarkozy and his wife were on holiday in Canada at the time of the raids.

Days after losing his presidential immunity, Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, sent the judge his diary relating to the weeks before his 2007 election, saying it proved that no "supposedly secret rendezvous" could have taken place.

Mrs Bettencourt was placed under legal guardianship in October after a legal battle over her €16bn fortune. It began when her estranged daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, accused a society photographer and other advisers of taking advantage of the 89-year-old heiress, who has dementia.

Mr Gentil has cited two suspect withdrawals of €400,000 on behalf of Mrs Bettencourt's former wealth manager, Patrice de Maistre.

The first was made on February 5, 2007, two days before a meeting between Mr de Maistre and Eric Woerth, Mr Sarkozy's then-campaign treasurer. Mr Woerth later became labour minister but resigned in 2010 over the funding scandal. Mrs Bettencourt's accountant, Claire Thibout, has testified to having been asked in 2007 to provide €150,000 to Mr Woerth. He denies any wrongdoing.

The second withdrawal was made on April 26, 2007. The judge is also intrigued by a diary entry by Mrs Bettencourt's friend Francois-Marie Banier, that the heiress mentioned a "request for money" from Mr Sarkozy to which she "said yes". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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