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Updated: July 21, 2010 19:12 IST

French investigators question minister's wife

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French Labour Minister Eric Woerth. File photo: AP.
French Labour Minister Eric Woerth. File photo: AP.

The wife of France’s labour minister was questioned on Wednesday by police investigating the finances of the heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth was next to be questioned after the Cabinet gave its formal approval to a request by the prosecutor’s office. It was not immediately clear when police would meet with him.

The probe centres on allegations that 87—year—old L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, the country’s richest woman, secretly funded President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.

The prosecutor’s office in the Paris suburb of Nanterre opened a preliminary investigation after a former accountant for Bettencourt, Claire Thibout, told investigators that Bettencourt’s chief financial adviser gave 150,000 euros in cash to Mr. Eric Woerth, then treasurer of Mr. Sarkozy’s conservative party UMP, in March 2007, the official said. Mr. Sarkozy was elected two months later.

Mr. Woerth’s wife worked as an investment adviser to the L’Oreal heiress from 2007 to the end of June 2010, resigning after the scandal broke.

Opposition politicians are demanding that Mr. Woerth resign amid the Bettencourt scandal, but Mr. Sarkozy has vigorously defended him and calls the allegations a smear campaign.

A judicial official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly said that Florence Woerth was questioned as a witness, not a suspect, about tape recordings secretly made by a former butler of the heiress.

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