Sarkozy's home raided in inquiry into illegal funding

Wed, Jul 4, 2012, 01:00

FRENCH POLICE yesterday raided the home and offices of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy as part of an investigation into illegal campaign financing and alleged cash payments from L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France’s wealthiest woman.

Early yesterday police searched the mansion rented by Mr Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni, in a chic gated community in the west of Paris, where the couple live.

Officers also searched the office of the legal firm where Mr Sarkozy is a partner and the new office he moved into after losing the presidential election to François Hollande in May.

The Sarkozys were away, having left for a Quebec chalet holiday on Monday, Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer said.

As president, Mr Sarkozy had judicial immunity which protected him from legal action, but this expired on June 16th. A judge in Bordeaux is investigating whether Mr Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party benefited from cash gifts from the mentally fragile Ms Bettencourt (89) during the former president’s successful 2007 election campaign. The investigating magistrate is trying to establish whether Mr Sarkozy’s campaign might have received €800,000 in illegal funding.

In February, Eric Woerth, the former French budget minister and UMP treasurer, was placed under judicial investigation over cash he was alleged to have received from Ms Bettencourt to fund the 2007 campaign. He denies any wrongdoing.

The investigation is part of the wider Bettencourt saga, which has gripped France for years.

Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said the raids would show nothing and that he had already supplied information to investigators that debunked suspicions of secret meetings with Ms Bettencourt.

“These raids ... will, as expected, prove futile,” he said in a statement. Mr Herzog said magistrates looking into whether Mr Sarkozy had received funds from Ms Bettencourt had been supplied with diary details of all his appointments in 2007. These, he said, “prove that the purported ‘secret meetings’ with Mme Liliane Bettencourt were impossible”.

Mr Sarkozy (57) could come under the spotlight in a number of legal cases now he is no longer head of state.

He could also become a focus of an investigation into whether there was a shady cabinet noir at the highest reaches of the French government that used the secret services to spy on journalists at Le Monde to uncover their sources for stories about the Bettencourt affair. – (Guardian service)