Sarkozy questioned over claims he cheated L'Oreal heiress

 

Paris

The French centre-right yesterday suffered one of the most miserable days in the history of any political movement in the democratic world.

Its former leader, and the former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy was questioned by magistrates for more than 12 hours about the alleged abuse of the mental frailty of France's richest woman to finance his 2007 election campaign.

Late last night Sarkozy was given the status of a "legally assisted witness" in the investigation – making him a possible suspect but one not yet formally accused of a crime.

At the same time, Mr Sarkozy's party – the largest in France – struggled to avoid collapse amid charges of vote-rigging during an election to choose a new leader last weekend.

Following an all-day grilling by three examining magistrates in Bordeaux, Mr Sarkozy was last night declared to be a "temoin assisté" in the alleged "abuse of weakness" of Liliane Bettencourt, the main shareholder of the cosmetics giant L'Oréal. Investigators believe Mr Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign received large illegal cash payments from Ms Bettencourt, then 84, when her mental faculties were waning. Mr Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing.

Finally, late last night, the former President escaped the formal accusation of wrong-doing that had been widely predicted. "Assisted witness" status means that the magistrates believe there is some evidence of his involvement but not enough to justify him being placed under formal investigation. The former President, who retired from politics after he failed to win a second term in May, could be called back for further questioning,

At the heart of the investigation 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 – suggested that at least one of the cash shipments was destined for Mr Sarkozy's campaign treasurer, Eric Woerth.

The chief investigating magistrate, Jean-Michel Gentil, has also found a diary entry made at the time by a playboy photographer, François-Marie-Banier. Mr Banier, who was also formally accused of "abusing" Ms Bettencourt's weakness of mind last year, wrote in the spring of 2007 that Patrice de Maistre, Ms Bettencourt's chief financial adviser, "told me that Sarkozy has asked for money again".

Mr Sarkozy has claimed he did not receive the funds as alleged.

President Sarkozy's diary entries for the time include two visits to Ms Bettencourt's home, although this does not confirm the claims. The investigating magistrate is also examining claims that, once elected, Mr Sarkozy repeatedly intervened to block a legal case brought by Ms Bettencourt's daughter to protect her senile mother from Mr Banier and other alleged financial predators.

In the meantime, efforts are under way to rescue from scission, or complete collapse, Mr Sarkozy's party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). The former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, has agreed to mediate between the two candidates in a leadership election which ended in an angrily disputed dead heat on Sunday amid mutual accusations of fraud.

The UMP's secetary-general, Jean-François Copé was declared the winner by 98 out of 170,000 votes on Monday night. It emerged on Wednesday, however, that 1,300 votes from UMP members in French "overseas" departments in the Pacific and Indian Oceans had been omitted from the count. If included, they gave a 26 vote victory to Mr Sarkozy's former prime minister, François Fillon.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices