Nicolas Sarkozy's hopes of return to political power boosted as he is cleared of 'fleecing' chief L'Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt

 

Paris

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy's hopes of a political comeback today received a substantial boost when he was cleared of abusing the feeble mental condition of France's wealthiest woman.

Magistrates investigating the "Bettencourt affair" - an allegation that Liliane Bettencourt, chief shareholder of cosmetics group L'Oréal, was systematically fleeced by friends, advisers and politicians - decided that Mr Sarkozy had "no case to answer". Ten other people, including Mr Sarkozy's campaign treasurer and former budget minister, Eric Woerth, were sent for trial.

In a written ruling, the two magistrates investigating the affair announced that they had found insufficient evidence against Mr Sarkozy. The decision clears a sizable obstacle to the former president's ambitions to return to politics. He remains linked to several other criminal investigations but the "Bettencourt" affair is the only alleged scandal in which Mr Sarkozy has been formally implicated, or "mis en examen", since he lost power 16 months ago.

Mr Sarkozy's friends, who had insisted all along that he was the victim of a political witch-hunt, claimed the decision as a "victory". Nonetheless, the "Bettencourt trial", scheduled for early next year, may yet be deeply embarrassing for Mr Sarkozy and his centre right party.

The two investigating magistrates, Jean-Michel Gentil and Valérie Noël, yesterday sent for trial the 10 people, who were charged with the fraudulent "abuse" of Ms Bettencourt's waning mental powers.

Mr Woerth is accused of receiving at least one payment of around €400,000 from Ms Bettencourt in February 2007, three months before the election. The investigating magistrates have been unable to prove that this money helped to fund Mr Sarkozy's campaign.

They also decided that two visits by Mr Sarkozy to the Bettencourt mansion at this time - not one visit as the former President had claimed - were not sufficient proof that he was part of a conspiracy to defraud the then 84 year-old billionaires.

The remaining accused include the playboy photographer, François-Marie Barnier, whose long friendship with Ms Bettencourt was the origin of the scandal. Ms Bettencourt's daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Myers, accused him in 2008 of taking over €1bn from her mother in cash, art-works and insurance-policies.

The other defendants were mostly advisers to Ms Bettencourt, including her former fund manager, Patrice de Maistre. In conversations recorded by a bug placed by Ms Bettencourt's butler, which were leaked to the press in 2010, Mr de Maistre is heard wheedling the money for a racing yacht from his employer. He is also heard discussing with a vague and confused Ms Bettencourt payments to Mr Woerth for Mr Sarkozy's campaign.

A medical report ordered by the magistrates found that Ms Bettencourt, now 91, had been suffering for many years from a form of Alzheimer's. Her daughter, Francoise, originally brought a civil action to try to protect her mother from her friend, Mr Banier, and her allegedly rapacious financial and legal advisers.

The defendants in the case are challenging the validity of the medical report on Ms Bettencourt, carried out by a doctor friend of one of the magistrates. An appeal court ruling is expected shortly.

Former President Sarkozy's name has been linked to several other alleged scandals. A judicial investigation is in progress into allegations that he took campaign funds in 2007 from the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. He is also alleged to have been involved in a sweet-heart deal in 2008 to settle a long-standing legal dispute between his friend, the tycoon Bernard Tapie, and the French state. In this case, however, Mr Sarkozy may be protected by the constitutional immunity from prosecution granted to French presidents for decisions taken while in office.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Male PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Teaching Assistants needed in Winsford

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Cheshire...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits