Sarkozy hits back over Bettencourt allegations
Former French president outraged he has been accused of taking advantage of heiress’s age and dementia
Nicolas Sarkozy: “Believes the treatment that has been meted out to him has been disgraceful,” says lawyer
Nicolas Sarkozy and his supporters launched a counter-offensive yesterday after a Bordeaux judge placed the former French president under investigation for exploiting the frailty of France’s richest woman, L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt (90).
Judge Jean-Michel Gentil suspects Mr Sarkozy took advantage of Ms Bettencourt’s age and dementia to extract large amounts of cash from her for his 2007 presidential campaign.
The former president’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said he would file a suit to annul the investigation for “abuse of weakness”. “Mr Sarkozy will carry on fighting this, but at the same time he believes the treatment that has been meted out to him has been disgraceful,” Mr Herzog told RTL radio station.
Mr Sarkozy’s allies in the conservative UMP claim the ruling socialists want to discredit him to distract attention from French president François Hollande’s unpopularity.
Socialist budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac was forced to resign on Tuesday under suspicion of tax fraud. Alluding to “political stench”, Mr Sarkozy’s former industry minister, Christian Estrosi, said: “Everybody will notice that this happened 48 hours after a socialist minister was put under a cloud, probably to compensate for that.”
Henri Guaino, Mr Sarkozy’s former speech writer, now a member of the French national assembly, said Judge Gentil’s decision “dishonoured French justice”.
But testimony by a driver, governess, secretary, chambermaid, butler and accountant who were employed by the Bettencourts seems to support the judge’s thesis.
Contrary to Mr Sarkozy’s previous testimony, he visited the Bettencourts more than once in 2007, and saw Ms Bettencourt as well as her late husband, André.
Judge Gentil believes Mr Sarkozy was aware that large amounts of cash were handed over in brown paper envelopes by Patrice de Maistre, the Bettencourts’ financial adviser, to Mr Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer, Éric Woerth.
Mr Woerth resigned from Mr Sarkozy’s government in 2010 because of the scandal.
Judge Gentil has identified seven suspicious withdrawals from the Bettencourts’ undeclared Swiss bank accounts between 2007 and 2009, totalling €4 million in cash.
Mr Sarkozy’s chances of standing in the 2017 presidential election could be compromised by the scandal.
He is threatened by four other judicial inquiries. They involve opinion polls commissioned during his presidency; illegal financing of his mentor Édouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign; an alleged plan to seek campaign funds from Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafy; and the €403 million settlement accorded by Christine Lagarde, who was then Mr Sarkozy’s finance minister, to a businessman who supported Mr Sarkozy.