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France

Questioned by police, Labour Minister denies wrongdoing

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-07-29

Scandal-plagued French Labour Minister Eric Woerth denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest when police questioned him for eight hours Thursday in connection with financial scandals surrounding France's richest woman, his lawyer said.

French Labour Minister Eric Woerth denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest when police questioned him Thursday in connection with financial scandals surrounding France's richest woman, his lawyer said.

Police questioned Woerth for eight hours as part of inquiries into whether L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt illegally bankrolled President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign among other allegations.

Woerth's lawyer Jean-Yves Leborgne said after the police interview that his client was now "out of the controversy."

Woerth has been forced to quit his post as treasurer of the ruling UMP party in the wake of a widening scandal that has rocked the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

FRANCE 24’s French Politics Editor Marc Perelman said police questioned Woerth over three separate incidents that have come to haunt the embattled minister.

“The most sensitive issue is the potential illegal financing of the ruling UMP party,” he said.

Earlier this month Bettencourt’s former accountant, Claire Thibout, told police that she had witnessed illegal cash donations being handed directly to Eric Woerth for Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

Police are trying to determine whether Woerth received 150,000 euros in cash from the Bettencourt family to help Sarkozy’s presidential bid, as Thibout claims.

Woerth has been accused of using his political leverage to help the super-wealthy family avoid tax audits and to secure a job for his wife Florence Woerth with de Maistre’s firm.

A government report released on July 11 stated that Woerth had not helped the Bettencourt household evade taxes during his time as budget minister. Woerth himself has strenuously denied any conflict of interest.



“Eric Woerth gave the Legion of Honour to Patrice de Maistre. This is a very big honour here in France,” added Perelman. “Police want to know if this is also part of a quid pro quo arrangement”

Relieved to be questioned

Woerth previously stated that he wanted to speak to police quickly in order to dispel the allegations, which have continued to hurt the Sarkozy government of Nicolas Sarkozy and threaten to spoil its summer recess.

"The image of the government and the president, which is already battered, is probably reaching new lows," said Perelman.

While the minister is set to step down as UMP treasurer on Friday, he has refused to resign as minister and has vowed to continue to push through the unpopular pension reform package he is championing.

“Woerth said he would be relieved to meet police, but this may not be the last time he is questioned,” says Perelman. “These overlapping investigations are evolving at a rapid pace.”

Date created : 2010-07-29

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