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French minister Woerth U-turns on Bettencourt advisor claims

France's Labour Minister Eric Woerth attends UMP youth congress in a Paris suburb, August 31, 2010.
France's Labour Minister Eric Woerth attends UMP youth congress in a Paris suburb, August 31, 2010. Reuters/ Philippe Wojazer

France’s Labour Minister Eric Woerth has admitted helping the advisor of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt obtain the Légion d’honneur, one day after the French press reported Woerth had written a letter in his favour.

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Embroiled in an scandal over an alleged conflict of interest involving Bettencourt, Woerth had until Thursday always denied helping her advisor Patrice de Maistre obtain the nation's highest decoration.

But on Wednesday, two French weeklies reported the police had found a letter written by Woerth, then treasurer of France’s right-wing UMP party, to Nicolas Sarkozy, who was interior minister in 2007. According to Le Canard Enchaîné and L’Express, Woerth asked Sarkozy to back de Maistre for the Légion d'honneur.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Woerth denied any wrongdoing. “I wrote the letter when I was a lawmaker, a simple lawmaker; it was a very ordinary thing to do.”

Dossier: The Bettencourt scandal
AFP / TF1

Woerth has repeatedly denied having any role in helping de Maistre obtain the medal, which was awarded in January 2008.

Opposition politicians have called for Woerth’s resignation, saying he is incapable of implementing France’s sensitive pensions reform.

Socialist lawmaker Manuel Valls said on Thursday Woerth's departure was “a moral necessity”. “Eric Woerth should have quit the government this summer and let the French justice system do its job. That would have been a reasonable decision given the situation we now know.”

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