Nicolas Sarkozy should be cleared of defrauding Liliane Bettencourt, says prosecutor

Former president stands accused of de-frauding the L’Oréal heiress to finance his 2007 election campaign

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The Independent Online

A French state prosecutor recommended yesterday that former President Nicolas Sarkozy should be cleared of abusing the mental weakness of France’s wealthiest woman. 

The final decision on whether Mr Sarkozy should stand trial rests, however, with the three investigating magistrates who formally accused him in March of de-frauding the octogenarian L’Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, to finance his 2007 presidential campaign.

The state prosecutor in Bordeaux, where the case is being handled, announced yesterday that there was insufficient evidence against Mr Sarkozy or against the former French budget minister, Eric Woerth. He recommended that six other men should go for trial, including Ms Bettencourt’s friend, the society photographer, François-Marie Banier, and her former financial adviser, Patrice de Maistre.

The prosecutors’ doubts about the strength of the case against Mr Sarkozy have been known for several weeks. The investigating magistrates must decide late next month whether they accept the prosecutor’s ruling.

In another scandal in which Mr Sarkozy’s name has appeared, another team of investigating magistrates in Paris yesterday formally accused the business tycoon Bernard Tapie, 70, of taking part in a conspiracy to defraud the French state in 2008. A supposedly independent arbitration panel paid Mr Tapie €405m to settle a 15-year-old dispute over the sale of the sports company Adidas by a state-owned bank.