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Bettencourt’s ex-accountant says Sarkozy received illegal cash donations

media © REUTERS

Presidential aides deny allegations Nicolas Sarkozy received cash payments from France’s richest woman Liliane Bettencourt, the day after Bettencourt’s former accountant said her employer funded Sarkozy’s election campaign via envelopes containing cash.

In an interview with the website Mediapart, the accountant, identified as Claire T, says Bettencourt’s financial manager, Patrice de Maistre, wanted to withdraw 150,000 euros in March 2007 with the intention of giving it to Eric Woerth to fund Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. At the time Woerth was Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer.

Woerth on Tuesday denied the charges.

The accountant, who alleges she worked for Bettencourt from 1995 to 2008, says she testified to the police about the cash donations on Monday evening.

She also said Sarkozy himself was a regular visitor at the Bettencourt family home, where he too allegedly received envelopes of cash when he was mayor of the town of Neuilly.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Elysée Palace said allegations Sarkozy received cash payments were “totally false”. He added that allegations Woerth received a 150,000 cash donation from Bettencourt “seemed groundless.”

Claire T alleges that she refused to give De Maistre 150,000 euros because she was only authorised to withdraw 50,000 euros. She says she gave him 50,000 euros and that De Maistre withdrew 100,000 euros from Bettencourt’s bank accounts in Switzerland.

“Then Maistre told me he would be joining Eric Woerth for diner soon, so as to give him 150,000 euros ‘discreetly,’ I quote. And the dinner did indeed take place quickly,” Claire T told Mediapart.

Sarkozy is the latest politician to be dragged into the scandal surrounding L’Oréal heiress, which was sparked by secret recordings alleging Bettencourt was evading tax.

Bettencourt’s butler secretly recorded conversations between Bettencourt, her lawyers and financial managers, which allude to bank accounts held in Switzerland.

Labour Minister, Eric Woerth, who was budget minister at the time, was mentioned several times in the recordings, which prompted the opposition to call for his resignation.

On Sunday evening, International Development Secretary Alain Joyandet and Christian Blanc, who is responsible for the Paris region, resigned over scandals involving the spending of public money on cigars and jets.

Virtually the entire French press saw the resignations as an attempt to take the spotlight off Woerth, a key figure in Sarkozy’s government.

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