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L'Oreal fund manager's claims turn up heat on labour minister

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-17

The finance manager for France's richest woman says Labour Minister Eric Woerth (left) sought career advice for his wife, Florence (right), months before she was hired to help manage the L'Oreal heiress's fortune, Le Monde news daily said Saturday.

AFP - The wealth manager of France's richest woman has told police Labour Minister Eric Woerth asked him to give his wife career advice a few months before she was recruited to help manage the fortune, the newspaper Le Monde reported on Saturday.

Quoting what it said were transcripts of police questioning of wealth manager Patrice de Maistre, it said he had referred the hiring decision to L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt and her late husband because of the political sensitivity.
 
"I saw him (Woerth) two or three times in early 2007 because he asked me to meet his wife to try to give her advice on her career, which according to him, she was not entirely satisfied with," De Maistre was quoted as telling investigators.
 
Florence Woerth, the conservative politician's wife, was hired at a salary of 140,000 euros ($181,700) a year and a bonus of 60,000 euros. She stepped down in June after allegations that Bettencourt had evaded tax on some of her assets.
 
Asked why he felt it necessary to consult the Bettencourts before recruiting her, De Maistre was quoted as telling police: "Mrs Woerth wasn't a major risk... when I talk about sensitivity, I mean associating the budget minister's wife with one of France's biggest fortunes."
 
Woerth has denied any conflict of interest between his role as treasurer of the ruling UMP party and of President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, his position as budget minister until March and his wife's job.
 
Florence Woerth told a newspaper after resigning that she had underestimated the potential conflict of interest.
 
Woerth has denied requesting the job for his wife and said there was a "Chinese wall" between his work and hers.
 
The minister's lawyer, Jean-Yves Leborgne, asked by Reuters for comment, said Le Monde's report did not reveal anything new.
 
"There are no new facts in what has been published. We learned that De Maistre was looking to hire someone and had even contacted headhunters. The first contacts between Mrs Woerth and De Maistre occurred in the context of her work for the bank where she was employed," he said.
 
Leborgne said a report by the Finance Ministry's tax inspectorate (IGF) had cleared Woerth of any interference in Bettencourt's tax affairs while he was budget minister.
 
"I must point out that the presence of Mrs Woerth in the Bettencourt wealth management firm resulted in no advantage for the company, as indicated by the report from the IGF," he said.
 
The lawyer said Woerth and his wife were eager to be questioned by police and give their account of events. The police are barred from commenting on any ongoing inquiry.
 
Police are investigating separately allegations by Bettencourt's former bookkeeper that the billionairess and her late husband made numerous illegal donations to conservative politicians, including to Woerth for Sarkozy's campaign.
 
The president and the minister have both denied receiving illicit cash donations from the Bettencourts.
 
There was no reference to these allegations in the testimony reported by Le Monde, and it was not clear whether De Maistre had been asked about them.
 
Woerth announced his resignation as UMP treasurer on Tuesday, but Sarkozy said he would stay on as labour minister in charge of a major pensions reform, which goes to parliament in September.  

 

Date created : 2010-07-17

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