Embattled French Labour Minister Eric Woerth admitted Thursday that, contrary to his previous statements, he recommended to Nicolas Sarkozy that Liliane Bettencourt’s financial adviser be given the Legion of Honour.
The admission came two days after the weekly L’Express reported on its website that it had seen a letter Mr. Woerth had written to Mr. Sarkozy in March 2007 urging that Patrice de Maistre, who manages the fortune of France’s richest woman, be given the distinction.
At the time, Mr. Sarkozy was interior minister and Mr. Woerth a lawmaker in the National Assembly.
Mr. Woerth himself decorated Mr. Maistre with the Legion of Honour at a ceremony in January 2008, when Mr. Sarkozy was president, and three months after the financier gave Mr. Woerth’s wife a high—paying job with his company.
Asked on Thursday at a press conference if the letter existed, Mr. Woerth said, “Yes, it exists.” But he defended himself by saying that he only did what many other lawmakers also did.
“What conclusions should be drawn?” he said. “It’s a big banality.” However, Mr. Woerth has repeatedly denied, both in public and to police, that he had played a part in Mr. Maistre receiving the Legion of Honour.
He took the same line on Thursday, saying, “I have never lied about anything... If you don’t believe me, it’s your political position.” On Monday, Mr. Woerth’s lawyer had refined Mr. Woerth’s denials. “Eric Woerth has always said that he did not support this case (the Legion of Honour) as minister,” Jean—Yves Le Borgne said.
Mr. Le Borgne also said that his client had only told the police that he did not remember doing anything like this.
It was unclear if Mr. Woerth’s admission would have consequences for his job. Mr. Sarkozy has steadfastly supported his minister, who is charged with steering the president’s crucial pension reform bill through Parliament.
Mr. Woerth is suspected of accepting 150,000 euros (192,000 dollars) in illegal contributions from Mr. Maistre for Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign, at about the same time he wrote the Legion of Honour letter. He was treasurer of Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP party at the time.
Keywords: Eric Woerth