Tax scandals get stickier for French Minister Woerth


French President Nicolas Sarkozy voiced “full support” for his Labour Minister Eric Woerth this weekend, amidst allegations that he and his wife, Florence, were aware of L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s tax evasion plans.


Florence Woerth has resigned from her job as a financial advisor to Bettencourt, France’s wealthiest woman, despite vehemently denying that she turned a blind eye to the fraud. She helped manage the heiress' 16-billion-euro fortune.

But the Labour Minister was put under further scrutiny Sunday, when France’s Journal de Dimanche newspaper reported that he had allegedly met with an heir to the Peugeot car firm at a time when it was thought that the heir was looking to dodge a tax probe.

According to the French weekly, a dinner took place between the two just days after gold ingots were stolen from the heir’s home in Paris in 2009 because “he was afraid of an inquiry into the origin of his gold."

The newspaper reported that the gold was initially valued at 500,000 euros, a figure reported to have later been reduced to 150,000 euros, which the article suggests was an effort to draw attention away from the burglary and avoid the probe.

Journal du Dimanche also noted that Woerth had awarded a Legion d'Honneur award to Peugeot earlier this month.

On Sunday the minister denied all allegations of intervening on Peugeot's behalf, calling the claims "absolutely scandalous" and "viscious".

He said that as a minister he knew many company bosses, including Peugeot’s, and that the burglary was not a topic of conversation between the two men at the dinner.

Woerth added that due to the nature of the allegations "it is very difficult to prove what does not exist".

A rising star in Sarkozy’s government, Woerth was previously nicknamed “Mr Clean” after leading a major crackdown on tax evasion in his previous role of budget minister.

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