France - L'Oréal scandal

Nearly 400,000 euros withdrawn by heiress in run-up to Sarkozy's election, say reports

Reuters

Fresh evidence appeared Friday in the row over alleged illegal funding of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, with a French magazine claimed that more than 388,000 euros were withdrawn from the bank account of the L’Oréal heiress at the centre of the storm in the run-up to the vote.

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The revelation comes after Bettencourt’s ex-accountant claimed that the L’Oréal heiress made illegal contributions to Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign and that he was a frequent visitor to her home.

French politics no stranger to scandals

 On Thursday the presidential palace went on the offensive, claiming that “the truth has been restored” after reports that the ex-accountant, Claire Thibout, had denied naming Sarkozy as a recipient of Bettencourt’s cash.

But late Thursday Thibout’s lawyer, Antoine Gillot, said that she stood by her story when police confronted her with the administrator of Bettencourt’s fortune, Patrice de Maistre, although she had earlier described the claim that Sarkozy went to Bettencourt’s villa to collect the cash personally as “a fairy tale”.

The president’s case was also strengthened Thursday by excerpts from her notebooks, published by Le Figaro and Libération newspapers, which showed that large sums had indeed been withdrawn but that they appeared to have been assigned to legitimate purposes.

Will the Bettencourt scandal help the far right?

 
But the latest revelations, in Marianne magazine to  bepublished Saturday, show “frequent” withdrawals of “very large” sums between January and April 2007, the four months before the presidential poll.

“Nothing in Claire T’s notebooks indicates what this money was to be used for,” Marianne comments. “That’s logical, since she herself has indicated that no traces were to be left.”

It adds that the terms "Monsieur" and "Monsieur Bettencourt" appear on numerous occasions in relation to a total of 183,350 euros. Thibout has said that this was the way of denoting money to be used for political purposes.

The polemic between ministers and the Médiapart website, which broke Thibout’s story, continues.

Junior Minister Claude Wauquiez challenged the site to publish the tapes of her testimony and accused it of slander. And Sports Minister Rama Yade accused the site’s editor, Edwy Plenel, of behaving like a “political opponent” of Sarkozy rather than a journalist.

Veteran Sarkozy rival and former Prime Minister Dominque de Villepin sprung to the media’s defence, saying that government reactions to the scandal have been “damaging to press freedom”.

Plenel himself declared that the “violence, bad faith and hubris of these attacks” prove that his story is true.

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