French Labour Minister Eric Woerth, already the object of allegations of corruption, was on Wednesday accused of selling a horse racetrack to a friend at extremely favourable terms.
According to reports by the weeklies Le Canard Enchaine and Marianne, in March, six days before he left the post of budget minister, Mr. Woerth ordered the sale of the Compiegne thoroughbred racetrack near Paris and 57 hectares of forest land for 2.5 million euros (3.2 million dollars).
According to the two weeklies, the market value of the property is estimated at 20 million euros. The purchaser, according to Le Canard Enchaine, was “a good friend... of Eric Woerth.” Marianne published a letter indicating that Mr. Woerth took a hand in the sale and personally approved it.
The finance ministry has denied any irregularity in the transaction. But the allegations are certain to increase calls by opposition politicians for an independent investigation into Mr. Woerth’s past.
The labour minister has also been accused by a former accountant of L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt of accepting an illegal contribution of 150,000 euros for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign.
At the time, Mr. Woerth was the treasurer of Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP party, a post he said he would now relinquish.
On Monday, Mr. Sarkozy defended Mr. Woerth, calling him “an honest man, a competent man, a man who has my complete trust.”