Sarkozy placed under formal investigation in party funding case

Former French president has repeatedly denied taking campaign funds from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation yesterday for "abuse of weakness" in a 2007 party funding case involving elderly L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, the public prosecutor said.

Under French law, a formal investigation is the final step before a suspect is accused of a crime. Sarkozy, who only this month hinted he could make a political comeback, has repeatedly denied taking campaign funds from Bettencourt.

“Nicolas Sarkozy, who benefits from the presumption of innocence, had been notified that he has been placed under formal investigation for taking advantage of a vulnerable person in February 2007 and during 2007 to the detriment of Liliane Bettencourt,” the prosecutor in the southwestern city of Bordeaux said.

Ms Bettencourt (90) is France’s richest woman. Mr Sarkozy, who lost last year’s election to François Hollande, faced members of her staff at the hearing earlier yesterday.

He was already questioned in November by judges, but they opted not to open a full-blown inquiry into Mr Sarkozy, who remains a possible candidate for the conservative camp in the next presidential contest.

Initial suspicions over funding were fuelled three years ago when an accountant for the mentally frail Ms Bettencourt alleged that a large cash withdrawal was earmarked for Mr Sarkozy’s election campaign. – (Reuters)