Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Sarkozy denies he accepted envelopes stuffed with money

REUTERS , PARIS

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office yesterday denied a media report that he received cash donations in person from France’s richest woman and her late husband.

However, a reported interview with a former bookkeeper for Liliane Bettencourt, the main shareholder in cosmetics giant L’Oreal, seemed certain to raise pressure on Sarkozy’s battered government over sleaze allegations.

The former bookkeeper, named only as Claire T., told news Web site Mediapart she had given French Labor Minister Eric Woerth a 150,000 euro (US$200,000) cash donation in unmarked envelopes for Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

An official in Sarkozy’s office, asked if the president had received cash payments in person, said: “That’s totally false.”

Asked whether Woerth, treasurer of Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007, had received such a donation, the official said: “That seems unfounded, but you must check with the treasurer of the campaign.”

Mediapart, which last month reported secret recordings of conversations between Bettencourt and her wealth manager, quoted the bookkeeper as saying the billionairess and her late husband had regularly given envelopes stuffed with cash to conservative politicians.

“She cites two names, Eric Woerth, the current labor minister, who has long been treasurer of the UMP party, and she recounts how in March 2007 she gave him cash — so much that she had to go and fetch some in Switzerland — altogether 150,000 euros, and she gave it to him for Nicolas Sarkozy,” Mediapart editor Edwy Plenel told France Inter radio.

Mediapart quoted Claire T. as saying she had collected large sums in cash from a bank in Paris’ 16th district over many years, which the Bettencourts gave to politicians who visited them at their villa in the exclusive Neuilly residential suburb.

“Politicians were constantly marching through the house, especially at election time. Dede [Andre Bettencourt] was a big giver. They all came to pick up their envelopes, sometimes as much as 100,000 euros, or even 200,000 euros,” the bookkeeper was quoted as saying.

She said Sarkozy was a regular visitor to the villa in the 1990s when he was mayor of Neuilly, and she had overheard their conversations because the Bettencourts were quite deaf and he had to speak loudly so they could hear him.

“Nicolas Sarkozy used to get his envelope, too. It happened in one of the little ground floor salons next to the dining room. It usually happened after the meal,” Mediapart quoted Claire T. as saying. “Again, everyone in the house knew that Sarkozy too went to see the Bettencourts to pick up money.”

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