PARIS, (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office denied allegations published in the daily Liberation yesterday that he was handed cash by L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 election campaign.
The assertions, made in extracts printed in Liberation of a book, “Sarkozy Killed Me”, to go on sale today, threaten to revive a political and financial scandal that gripped France a year ago and rocked Sarkozy’s government.
The book’s title refers to a message allegedly scrawled in blood by the victim in a famous murder case, “Omar killed me”.
“These allegations are scandalous, unfounded and untruthful,” a spokesman at Sarkozy’s office told Reuters.
A judicial source told Reuters individuals would likely be questioned over the matter, but that the claims were unlikely to lead very far.
They do have the potential to create unwelcome publicity for Sarkozy, however, just months before a 2012 presidential election in which he is widely expected to run.
Opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry called for a new inquiry into the claims and asked why they had not been revealed earlier.
Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse, who is also France’s budget minister, called the timing of the revelations, eight months before a presidential election, “dubious”.
“When you want to make accusations, you don’t make them in a book or in the press, you make them before the courts,” she told France 2 television.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the claims smacked of a pre-electoral conspiracy and said he hoped the ongoing legal inquiry would bring the affair to a rapid conclusion.
What the nurse saw
In the book, written by two journalists from Le Monde daily about various people’s dealings with Sarkozy, the magistrate who first investigated the Bettencourt affair, Isabelle Prevost-Desprez, says a witness claimed to have seen the heiress hand cash to Sarkozy when he was campaigning for election.
“Liliane Bettencourt’s nurse told my stenographer, after being questioned by me: ‘I saw cash payments to Sarkozy, but I couldn’t say it in my statement’,” Prevost-Desprez is quoted as saying.
The Bettencourt affair gripped the media in 2010, after the billionaire’s daughter, Francoise Meyers-Bettencourt, sued photographer Francois-Marie Banier, a friend of the heiress, claiming he was swindling her mother out of large sums of money.
The subsequent investigation quickly ballooned into a political scandal, involving allegations of influence-peddling by then budget minister and former party treasurer Eric Woerth and illegal financing of the ruling UMP party.