French police search Sarkozy party headquarters

FRENCH police probing a party financing scandal linked to L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt have searched the headquarters of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s majority UMP, the party said yesterday.

Police from the financial investigations squad searched the Paris headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, the party’s leader Xavier Bertrand said, in the latest development of the months-long scandal.

Several judicial investigations are under way into affairs linked to Bettencourt’s fortune, including allegations of tax evasion and illegal campaign funding that have implicated Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

The party’s director general, Eric Cesari, told AFP the police had come to look for “correspondence between Eric Woerth and Patrice de Maistre“, the manager of Bettencourt’s €17-billion fortune.

Woerth was previously UMP treasurer and head fundraiser for Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. He has been accused of a conflict of interest because his wife worked for Maistre, helping manage the billionairess’s estate.

Woerth denies any wrongdoing but has been politically weakened and the long-running investigation has undermined his and Sarkozy’s attempt to push through pensions reform.

Cesari said police had announced their visit and spent an hour-and-a-half at the headquarters checking archives, but did not take anything with them.

Police told AFP the search was ordered by a prosecutor in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre who is investigating various aspects of Bettencourt’s affairs and allegations implicating Woerth.

The magazine, Paris Match, reported on its website investigators were searching for a letter sent by Woerth to Sarkozy in 2007 in which Woerth called for Maistre to receive France’s top honour, the Legion d’Honneur.

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