Former French president Sarkozy questioned over illegal Bettencourt donations

Nicolas Sarkozy has appeared in court today to answer questions about allegations that he illegally accepted donations in his 2007 election campaign. He is suspected of having received donations from France‘s richest woman, the 90-year-old L’Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.

An examining magistrate at the Bordeaux court where Sarkozy appears today will decide whether the Conservative former president will be charged with taking advantage of the ageing and mentally fragile billionaire. Her former accountant told police that she gave over €150,000 (£120,000) in cash which she was told would be placed with Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer, Eric Woerth, who also faces questions in court.

In July, a magistrate ordered the seizure of Sarkozy’s diaries and French police have also raided the home and offices of the former president. It is thought Sarkozy’s representatives may have met with Bettencourt or her staff on several occasions, including at her hotel in Neuilly between February and April 2007 and at the Elysée in November 2008. From 2007 to 2011, there are said to have been a total of 31 meetings between the protagonists of what the French press is calling the affaire Bettencourt.

The investigation is part of a wider inquiry into the claim that Sarkozy’s UMP campaign might have received a total of €800,000 (£645,000) in illegal funding. Sarkozy may also face claims that there was a secret ‘cabinet noir’ in the government during his office, which employed spies to monitor journalists at Le Monde to uncover their sources for stories relating to the Bettencourt affair.

As president, Sarkozy had judicial immunity which protected him from legal investigations, but this expired on 16 June after he lost out in the latest presidential elections to Socialist François Hollande. Sarkozy has consistently denied all allegations against him.

Sources include: The Guardian, Le Monde, BBC News

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