Tearful Carla Bruni rejects claim Nicolas Sarkozy badgered L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt

A tearful Carla Bruni has dismissed as “unthinkable” the accusation that her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, took advantage of the mental frailty of an elderly billionaires to finance his rise to power.

In a flurry of interviews to publicise a new pop album, Ms Bruni choked back tears when asked about the decision by a judge last week to start a criminal investigation of the former president for “abuse of weakness”.

Asked in an interview for RTL radio whether she thought her husband was being “persecuted”, Ms Bruni replied: “It is simply unimaginable that this man could have abused the frailty of a woman who is the same age as his mother… I can’t tell you how unthinkable.”

Mr Sarkozy had been “mis en examen”, or formally accused – one step short of a charge – of badgering Liliane Bettencourt, the chief shareholder of the cosmetics giant L’Oréal, for illegal campaign funds in February 2007. Ms Bettencourt was 84 at the time and suffering from a form of Alzheimer’s.

The former president dismissed the accusations as “unfounded” in a statement on his Facebook page this week. His lawyer has started a legal action to quash the investigation.

In an interview with the newspaper Le Parisien, Ms Bruni said: “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth… It’s painful for me to talk about it. It’s painful for the whole family.”