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France

Bettencourt’s ex-accountant partially retracts statement in donations scandal

Video by Catherine NORRIS TRENT

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-07-09

Claire Thibout, ex-accountant of billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, has retracted parts of her initial statement regarding an illegal 150,000 euro donation to Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign during further police questioning on Thursday.

 

Claire Thibout, Liliane Bettencourt’s former accountant, met with the billionaire L’Oreal heiress’s financial advisor Patrice de Maistre in a three-hour confrontation at police headquarters in Paris on Thursday, as part of an ongoing investigation into whether Bettencourt made an illegal contribution to Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.
 
Thibout stuck to the latest version of her story, put forward during a first round of questioning by economic crime investigators on Wednesday night in the city of Nîmes, near her home in the south of France.
 
When initially interrogated, she largely backtracked on statements that she had made to the news Web site Mediapart on Tuesday July 6, and has apparently since testified that some of the details which appeared on Mediapart were inaccurate.
 
“I never said that…envelopes were regularly delivered to Mr. Sarkozy,” Thibout stated, according to news Web site LeFigaro.fr.
 
This is the first and most significant point on which Thibout contradicts herself. Her latter testimony stands in stark contrast to Mediapart’s July 6 article, which quoted Thibout providing detailed descriptions of dinners at Bettencourt’s house, at the end of which Sarkozy, then-mayor of the upscale Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine, “would also receive his envelope”.
 
Mediapart: fact or fiction?
 
This isn’t the only point on which Thibout’s respective stories don’t line up. In her initial Mediapart interview, the former accountant claimed that “Dédé [André Bettencourt] had contributed…to the cash financing of [former French Prime Minister] Edouard Balladur’s campaign”.
 
A day later, Thibout told police that “Mediapart’s article portrayed me as saying something concerning Mr. Balladur’s electoral campaign. It’s completely false, it’s fictionalised by Mediapart,” Lefigaro.fr reported.
 
And, Thibout’s police testimony also contradicts her Mediapart interview on the issue of exactly when Patrice de Maistre asked her to withdraw 150,000 euros from the bank with the intention of passing the cash to Eric Woerth, who was then acting as treasurer for Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign.
 
Thibout refused to withdraw the requested amount, arguing she didn’t have the authority to take out more than 50,000 euros from Bettencourt’s BNP Paribas account. Thibout told Mediapart that this exchange took place on March 26, 2007. Later, in her testimony to the police, Thibout stated that this date was incorrect.
 
However, French police confirmed Wednesday that 50,000 euros in cash were in fact withdrawn on March 26, 2007. But according to account ledgers published on Thursday by the daily newspaper “Libération”, there is no record of the money being handed over to de Maistre during the month of March. Instead, a transfer of 140,000 euros appeared in the ledger in January of the same year.
 
Mediapart sticks to its story
 
This sudden shift in the Bettencourt-Woerth scandal is great news for the Elysée.
 
“The fact that the truth has been restored is a pleasure,” said Claude Guéant, secretary-general of the Elysée, according to the AFP.
 
Another source close to the President was quoted on Lefigaro.fr as saying it was a “turning point”.
 
“She [Claire Thibout] was completely manipulated by Mediapart. We have the impression she is saying that the article did not fairly reproduce the remarks she made to a Mediapart journalist over the phone. She completely and clearly maintains the innocence of the President of the Republic”.
 
However, Mediapart is staunchly defending the accuracy of its journalism. The company says that Claire Thibout’s comments were accurately transcribed during the two conversations she had with Mediapart journalists, with a third party acting as a witness during each interview.
 
“This is a woman who has totally panicked and is scared,” said Fabrice Lhomme, one of the journalists who interviewed Thibout. “She’s living under an incredible amount of pressure from the police, and all the while there still isn’t a judge named, it’s a preliminary inquiry, and she’s been interrogated I don’t know how many times. She’s going back on a point that is sensitive and which concerns the President.”
 
“That doesn’t change anything that we’ve written. We maintain that the comments that were reported were done so accurately,” Lhomme continued.
 
 

 

Date created : 2010-07-08

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