Europe

Eric Woerth denies wrongdoing over L'Oreal scandal

Eric Woerth, French Labour Minister
Image caption Mr Woerth ran a political association which allegedly received generous donations from Mrs Bettencourt

French Labour Minister Eric Woerth has denied any wrongdoing to police investigating the financial affairs of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

He was questioned for eight hours in an inquiry into whether Mrs Bettencourt gave illegal donations to Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign.

Mr Woerth was a top fundraiser for the campaign in 2007.

His lawyer Jean-Yves Leborgne declared after the interview that his client was now "out of the controversy".

The minister had denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest in connection with the case, Mr Leborgne said.

Mr Sarkozy has also denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations arose from secret recordings made by a former butler of Mrs Bettencourt, France's richest woman.

During the taped conversations, which were leaked to the French press, Mrs Bettencourt and her financial adviser allegedly discuss means of escaping French taxes.

Mr Woerth's name also came up in the recording. It is alleged that he received generous donations from Mrs Bettencourt through a political association he ran.

The donations are alleged to have exceeded the legal limit.

Tax evasion

The L'Oreal heiress was questioned on Monday over the claims, as well as allegations about Swiss bank accounts and a Seychelles island allegedly used as a tax haven.

Her lawyer George Kiejman said the 87-year-old billionaire recalled dining with Mr Woerth, but "concerning the financing of political parties, she confirmed it was never a focus of interest for her, but rather for her [late] husband [Andre Bettencourt]".

He added that the police questioning "was about memories that are in some cases very old, and my client had not necessarily kept the details in mind".

Mr Woerth, a close ally of Mr Sarkozy, has come under pressure to resign in recent months after it emerged his wife worked for Mrs Bettencourt's wealth manager.

But a government report two weeks ago found that he did not use his former position as budget minister to spare Mrs Bettencourt from tax inspections.

Mrs Bettencourt earlier admitted tax evasion, promising to put her affairs in order.

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