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Embattled minister faces new fraud accusations

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-17

French labour minister Eric Woerth, who is already facing criticism over his connection to the questionable financial affairs of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, has been accused of lying to a lender about his income.

AFP - A beleaguered French minister already battling a scandal over his links to L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt was hit by new financial allegations Monday that could further undermine his standing.
  
Eric Woerth, President Nicolas Sarkozy's minister for work and pensions, has been struggling to push unpopular retirement reforms through parliament while dogged by a series of cash scandals that have rocked the government.
  
On Monday, the news website Mediapart reported that in 2008 Woerth made a false declaration of his revenue while successfully applying for a private bank loan to fund his campaign for re-election as mayor of Chantilly.
  
According to an apparent copy of the loan form published by Mediapart, Woerth described himself as an "engineer and technical executive" who earned only 3,000 euros (3,800 dollars) per month.
  
In fact, Woerth's ministerial salary at the time was 14,000 euros per month, while he could count on a further 2,400 euros as mayor and may have had other income from outside investments.
  
The declaration does not record Woerth as having paid any income tax.
  
Responding to the report, the bank issued a statement refuting "any allegations or interpretations that could be drawn from what is a purely provisional working document which represents nothing contractually."
  
The lending bank; Credit Agricole, said it was considering legal proceedings for violation of banking secrecy laws as a result of the document's publication.
  
A member of the minister's inner circle told AFP the loan was obtained properly in the normal manner for electoral contests and was repaid in full.
  
Many French candidates take out loans to pay for their campaigns and repay them through the state political funding they receive if they get enough votes to pass a minimum threshold of credibility.
  
"Credit Agricole knew perfectly well the real situation of Eric Woerth's revenue, as he had been the bank's client for a long time," the official said, describing the latest allegations as an "absurdity".
  
It was not immediately clear what Woerth might have hoped to achieve by allegedly minimising his revenues in this way, as banks normally prefer to see proof of sufficient income before according loans.
  
But Mediapart speculated that the minister may have wanted to avoid providing Credit Agricole with a record of his full tax declaration in order to hide something else.
  
Woerth has been working under a cloud for months after being implicated in a series of investigations into the financial affairs of Bettencourt, an 87-year-old multi-billionaire and France's richest woman.
  
Police have interviewed the minister over allegations he received illegal party funding from Bettencourt for Sarkozy's 2007 presidential race and that there was a conflict of interest in his wife working for the heiress.
  
Woerth has denied all the charges.

Date created : 2010-08-17

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