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France

French left demands probe of minister's ties to billionaire

media Liliane Bettencourt in Paris on 6 July 2007. AFP / Patrick Kovarik

The French opposition has called for an investigation into ties linking France’s Labour minister to L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who was taped allegedly plotting tax evasion.Labour Minister Eric Woerth said Tuesday his wife was taking an opposition politician to court.

The scandal surrounding France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, has yet to fully be revealed. Speaking on  French radio RTL on Tuesday, France’s Labour Minister Eric Woerth said that his wife Florence was going to lodge a complaint against green party politician and MEP Eva Joly.

“She will lodge a complaint against Eva Joly, because her remarks were unacceptable. They’re all experts of slander,” said Woerth. “It’s unacceptable to throw dirt at people like that, to jump to conclusions,” he added.

Joly, a former judge specialised in financial scandals, declared on Sunday that Woerth should step down and accused him of involvement in Bettencourt’s alleged tax evasion.

The 87-year-old has been caught up in a storm since last week when secret tapes revealed she had allegedly conspired to hide money in Swiss bank accounts while making donations to friends in the ruling UMP party.

Bettencourt's butler secretly recorded the conversations between the billionaire and her financial adviser in her villa in the posh Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine between May 2009 and May 2010.

Transcripts of tapes published on the French Mediapart website suggest Bettencourt funnelled 80 million euros into Swiss bank accounts and planned to move the funds to Singapore after France signed a tax cooperation deal with Switzerland.

The scandal has threatened to engulf France’s Labour minister, whose wife helped manage Bettencourt’s 16-billion-euro fortune. On Monday, Woerth announced that his wife Florence was to resign “in the coming days” and strongly denied any conflict of interest.

MEP Joly and Socialist lawmaker Arnaud Montebourg have both called for Woerth’s resignation. From May 2007 to March 2010, Woerth was budget minister and therefore was in “a situation of collusion”, Montebourg said.

In a radio interview Montebourg called for a probe into Woerth’s involvement in the management of Bettencourt’s fortune.

“We’ve got the feeling that millionaires today live very well, and cheat the taxman. State prosecutors protect them, wives of ministers help them and they have the support of the people in power, all is well,” he said.

 

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