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French press review 8 October 2013

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is back on the front pages, and he's smiling.

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Yesterday, after a five-year investigation, dozens of witness statements, three judges, four police raids on premises, two transfers of responsibility in the case, a judge finally decided that there was no evidence to support allegations that Sarkozy took advantage of the feeble mental state of the L'Oréal cosmetics billionaire, Lilliane Bettencourt, to encourage the good woman to contribute to the financing of the 2007 presidential campaign.

Dossier - The Bettencourt scandal

Surprisingly, one of Sarkozy's co-accused, former Budget Minister and UMP treasurer, Eric Woerth, will have to stand trial on the same charges.

But Sarkozy is not completely off the judicial hook either. He's accused of accepting tons of Libyan cash from the Kadhafi regime in 2007; Sarkozy is suspected of unfairness in the awarding of opinion polling during his presidency; there's an earlier case known as the Karachi Affair, where the finances of the 1995 presidential campaign are in question; and then there's Bernard Tapie, a businessman and supporter of Sarko, who is suspected of having been helped to a 600 million euro state handout.

Right-wing Le Figaro rather optimistically says the Bettencourt decision has "cleared Sarkozy's political horizon". Aujourd'hui en France, however, reminds readers that Sarko swore to his missis, Carla Bruni, that he would never return to the political arena. If the UMP does well in next year's local and European elections, things could change.

Speaking of local elections, they're in the process of electing a new councillor in the town of Brignoles, and the far right National Front is leading with 40 per cent of first round votes. Brignoles is not far from the southern city of Toulon, in a part of the country where the National Front traditionally polls strongly. Only 44 per cent of registered electors bothered to vote, which is very bad news for both mainstream political currents.

Le Figaro says the result has plunged the Socialist majority into panic, representing the third straight elimination of the left in a by-election first round.

The right-wing paper does admit at the end of an editorial that, if the Socialists have driven the electorate to desperation, the UMP only has half the answer.

At least no one can complain that the Socialists are being too easy on big business.

Says financial daily Les Echos, the government decision to compensate for recent rebates on the tax on gross profits by increasing the levy on all businesses with a turnover in excess of 250 million euros will mean that direct taxation on French companies will reach, at least briefly, 38 per cent.

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