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.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

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
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments