Sarkozy took illegal cash from L'Oréal heiress, claims judge

New book rekindles speculation about corruption in run-up to 2007 election

Paris

A judge will today accuse President Nicolas Sarkozy of accepting illegal cash contributions to his 2007 election campaign from France's wealthiest woman.

The accusation, levelled in a new book, threatens to launch an explosive new season of last summer's long-running politico-financial soap opera known as "The Bettencourt Affair".

Judge Isabelle Prévost-Desprez tells the authors of the investigative book that pressure from the Elysée Palace forced her to be removed from her inquiries into political aspects of the affair. Earlier, she said she had received evidence from an eyewitness that Mr Sarkozy accepted a cash payment in 2007 from the L'Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt, now 88.

Under French law, individual campaign donations are limited to €7,500 (£6,626), of which only €150 may be given in cash. Another witness in the Bettencourt affair claimed last summer that cash payments had been made to Mr Sarkozy but later withdrew her accusation.

The judge's new claim was dismissed yesterday by leading Sarkozy allies as politically motivated. The Elysée Palace said: "These allegations are scandalous, unfounded and untruthful."

Opposition politicians, scenting political and electoral if not legal blood, demanded an independent inquiry. François Hollande, front-runner for the Socialist nomination to challenge Mr Sarkozy in the presidential election next spring, said the book added to suspicions that the Elysée Palace had interfered in the judicial system.

The accusations by Judge Prévost-Desprez appear in a book by two investigative journalists from the Le Monde newspaper, Fabrice Lhomme and Gérard Davet. Sarko m'a tuer (Sarko Killed Me) traces the experiences of half a dozen people who claim their careers have been wrecked or derailed by the President for political or personal reasons since 2007.

Judge Prévost-Desprez, president of the 15th chamber of the tribunal of Nanterre, to the west of Paris, says she has been "blacklisted" by the Elysée and her career sidelined.

While investigating the political aspects of the Bettencourt affair, she said she was struck by the "fear" exhibited by witnesses called to give evidence on alleged financial dealings between Ms Bettencourt and Mr Sarkozy's centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP).

One of them was Ms Bettencourt's former nurse, who refused to give damning evidence in her statement but made revelations off the record. "Liliane Bettencourt's nurse told my stenographer, after being questioned by me: 'I saw cash payments to Sarkozy, but I couldn't say it in my statement'," Judge Prévost-Desprez is quoted as saying.

The Bettencourt affair began as a family quarrel between the billionairess and her only child, Françoise Meyers-Bettencourt. A society photographer, François-Marie Banier, who had befriended Ms Bettencourt over many years, was accused of taking advantage of her age to take over €1bn in cash, bequests, art works and insurance policies. This aspect of the affair has now been settled out of court, although mother and daughter are once again quarrelling in public.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
John Terry puts Chelsea ahead
football
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatreFish in the Dark has already generated a record $14.5m in advance ticket sales
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003