Nicolas Sarkozy made formal suspect in L’Oréal heiress fraud inquiry
Former President alleged to have abused weakness of France's wealthiest woman to obtain funds
Friday 22 March 2013
The former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was formally accused last night of abusing the mental weakness of France's wealthiest woman to help to finance his 2007 election campaign.
The political and judicial bombshell followed hours of questioning of the former head of state by an investigating magistrate in Bordeaux.
Mr Sarkozy was "placed under formal investigation" – one step short of a charge – for the alleged abuse of the weakness of Liliane Bettencourt, the 90-year-old chief shareholder of the cosmetics giant, L'Oréal.
After confronting Mr Sarkozy one-by-one with several former members of Ms Bettencourt's staff, Judge Jean-Michel Gentil decided that there was reason to believe that the former President lied during a similar 12-hour grilling in November last year. On that occasion, Mr Sarkozy said that he had visited Ms Bettencourt, then 84, on just one occasion during the 2007 presidential campaign and had never asked her for a "penny".
The judge accepted his word at the time and made him an "assisted witness" in the case, rather than an outright suspect. This decision has now been reversed.
Four members of her staff, including her former butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, have told the judge that they saw Mr Sarkozy enter Ms Bettencourt's mansion in Neuilly, just west of Paris, on several occasions in early 2007. Their evidence was repeated in the presence of the former President yesterday.
Mr Sarkozy's lawyer, Thierry Herzog, said last night that he would appeal against the judge's "incoherent and unjust" decision.
The case against Mr Sarkozy is far from watertight and he could still be cleared without going to trial. For the time being, however, his chances of resuming a political career, abandoned after he failed to win a second term last May, appear to be mortally damaged.
Mr Sarkozy would be the second successive French president, after Jacques Chirac, to face criminal charges for, in effect, illegally funding his career. But Nicolas Sarkozy is being accused of something far more serious – defrauding an elderly woman whose mental faculties were impaired.
Judge Gentil opted for the grave accusation of "abuse of weakness" because the time limit had passed for an investigation into illegal campaign financing. If ultimately charged and found guilty, Mr Sarkozy would face a prison sentence
At the heart of the accusation are two clandestine shipments of cash – amounting to €400,000 each – brought into France from Switzerland by Ms Bettencourt's financial advisers in February and April 2007. A statement to police by Ms Bettencourt's former accountant, Claire Thibout – later partly retracted – suggests that part of the cash was destined for Mr Sarkozy's campaign.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...