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Sarkozy dismisses Bettencourt cash donations claims

media The French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot … AFP

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday brushed aside allegations that L’Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt made illegal donations to his election campaigns via envelopes containing cash.

"I would love it so much if the country would get excited about the big problems ... rather than getting wrapped up in the first horror, a slander with only one goal, to smear with no basis in reality," Sarkozy said.

What started as a row over Bettencourt giving away part of her fortune has now become a  full-blown political scandal which has now touched the president himself.

In an interview with the website Mediapart, Bettencourt’s former accountant, claimed Bettencourt’s financial manager, Patrice de Maistre, wanted to give 150,000 euros to Eric Woerth to fund Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. At the time Woerth was Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer.

Woerth on Tuesday denied the charges.

Socialist MP Arnaud Montebourg has called for the nomination of  “an independent examining magistrate” to “know the truth” after the latest claims about Sarkozy’s campaign donations.

The former accountant, who 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-euro cash donation from Bettencourt “seemed groundless.”

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.

Sarkozy's approval ratings are at their lowest levels since he ws elected in 2007 and he faces an uphill battle to get his reform programme back on track before seeking reelection in 2012.

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