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Police scrutinise Bettencourt documents, Woerth awaits interview

3 min

Investigators who questioned L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt on Monday say they do not know when Labour Minister Eric Woerth is likely to be taken in for questioning. Meanwhile, further controversy has arisen surrounding Bettencourt's former personal accountant, Claire Thibout.


Dossier: The Bettencourt scandal

Woerth will not be questioned Tuesday, contrary to reports in the French media, the chief investigator says.

Bettencourt herself told police yesterday that financing political parties has never been at the centre of her interests. Meanwhile, documents that show that Bettencourt offered several flats to her then private accountant Claire Thibout are being examined.

Le Figaro newspaper reports that among numerous documents seized from Liliane Bettencourt’s accountant on Friday was a gift of an apartment made out at the end of 2006 to Bettencourt’s former personal accountant Claire Thibout.

The plan was never realised as there was never a final go-ahead by Bettencourt. Figaro quotes a friend of celebrity photographer François-Marie Banier, who suggests that the fact that the promised flats were never given goes some way to explain Thibout’s attitude towards Banier.

Thibout supports Bettencourt’s daughter Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers in her claim that the photographer took advantage of her mother’s senility to secure nearly one billion euros in gifts. The former accountant has provided secret recordings that appear to show Bettencourt’s wealth manager taking advice from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal counsellor.

French politics no stranger to scandals

Thibout’s lawyer said Monday that her client had “never asked for the least apartment from Liliane Bettencourt. Any document implying the opposite is manifestly false”.

Bettencourt, 87, was questioned by the fraud squad at her home on Monday. Her lawyer Georges Kiejman said she told police she vaguely remembered having dinner with Eric Woerth once and had no memory of his wife. She has acknowledged the existence of secret Swiss bank accounts and has said she will repatriate 78 million euros.

Her lawyer hinted that she had changed her will. In a 2007 document seized last week, Banier was named as Bettencourt’s sole heir, with a provision that if he died before her, her fortune would go to his companion Martin d’Orgeval.

The proscutor said he could not confirm when investigators would question Woerth. But he did say Eric Woerth had encouraged him to meet Florence at the beginning of 2007 “to discuss the evolution of her career”.

Woerth will be asked to explain an alleged conflict of interest after his wife was employed by Clymène, the company that runs the finances of L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. He has also been accused of accepting illegal political donations from Bettencourt.

He said he was very keen to be able to explain himself in court.

His wife Florence Woerth was questioned on 21 July about her employment in 2007 by
Clymène. On Monday, Liliane Bettencourt herself was questioned for several hours.

Bettencourt’s money manager, Patrice de Maistre, this weekend told Le Journal du Dimanche that he had not employed Florence Woerth at the request of her husband, then budget minister.

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