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Labour Minister and his wife face questions in Bettencourt probe

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-07-22

French police questioned the wife of embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth Wednesday over alleged tax evasion by her former employer, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. Woerth himself is also set to be questioned.

French police questioned embattled labour minister Eric Woerth’s wife Florence on Wednesday in an ongoing investigation into the finances of France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt.
 
The heiress of the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune is in a legal dispute with her daughter, during which allegations of tax evasion and illegal financing of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party have emerged.
 
Tax evasion and nepotism?
 
Woerth has been accused of turning a blind eye to Bettencourt’s alleged tax evasion while he was France’s budget minister in charge of tax affairs between 2007 and 2009. His wife was at this time in the employ of the billionaire Bettencourt’s financial advisors.
 
Florence Woerth was recruited in 2007 by Bettencourt’s wealth manager Patrick Le Maistre, who told investigators last week that Eric Woerth had personally asked him to meet his wife and give her career advice.
 
Eric Woerth, who as labour minister is in charge of France’s highly controversial pension reform, insisted on French radio Europe 1 that he had never used his influence to secure a job for his wife.
 
“I never asked anyone to hire my wife, never, never, never,” Woerth said during the highly charged interview.
 
Woerth to be quizzed by public prosecutors
 
As the scandal rumbles on, Sarkozy's cabinet gave the green light Wednesday for Woerth to be questioned by public prosecutors. 
 
Woerth, who denies any wrongdoing, has said he is eager to speak to investigators to clear his name.
 
The Labour Minister has long been treasurer of Sarkozy's party, in addition to his ministerial positions. These duel roles have fuelled charges of conflict of interest by the Socialist opposition.

Woerth has submitted his resignation as party treasurer, which will become effective at the end of July.

Date created : 2010-07-21

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