Minister cleared in L'Oréal heiress case

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A French financial inspection agency has concluded that a beleaguered government minister did not intervene in the tax affairs of the L'Oréal beauty empire heiress who is at the centre of a growing scandal.

France's Labour Minister, Eric Woerth, who until recently was leading a crackdown on tax-dodging as Budget Minister, still faces pointed questions about the multifaceted scandal and about his links to the 87-year-old heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.

The current Budget Minister had asked a financial inspection agency to investigate whether Mr Woerth abused his position to intervene in Mrs Bettencourt's tax affairs. One question was whether he had spared her from audits. The report from the General Inspectorate for Finance yesterday said he had not intervened in any way. President Sarkozy and Mr Woerth's political party, the conservative UMP, welcomed the report, saying the minister had been "unjustly insulted and smeared".

Mr Woerth's wife worked at a firm that helped manage Mrs Bettencourt's fortune but quit when the scandal over the heiress's tax affairs broke. Mr Woerth, in addition to his governmental duties, has long been the UMP party treasurer.

Mrs Bettencourt's former accountant told investigators last week that the heiress's financial adviser gave €150,000 (£126,000) in cash to Mr Woerth for Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign.