France authorities search home of ex-leader Sarkozy
PARIS -- Investigators searched the home and law offices of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday in a probe into whether he had received illegal campaign contributions from one of France’s wealthiest women, Liliane Bettencourt.
According to Sarkozy's lawyer, the searches were carried out while the former president was in Canada vacationing with his family. A judge is investigating allegations that Sarkozy, his 2007 campaign treasurer or both received illicit cash from the heiress to the L’Oréal fortune.
An estimated 150,000 euros, now equivalent to about $190,000, were given to Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer, according to Bettencourt’s accountant. Other witnesses have said Sarkozy visited the Bettencourt house more than once to ask for money.
Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, told BMF-TV that any police search as part of a probe being conducted by Judge Jean-Michel Gentil would be “useless.” The former president, who lost a reelection bid in May to now-President Francois Hollande, has always maintained his innocence.
In an attempt to dismiss accusations last month, Herzog presented the investigating judge with Sarkozy’s agenda and diary from 2007. Through his lawyer, Sarkozy has acknowledged occasionally going to the Bettencourt house in Neuilly when he was mayor of the upscale suburb west of Paris, and once in early 2007, simply as part of a cordial visit.
Since losing immunity to prosecution June 15, Sarkozy has been the focus of several corruption allegations. They include accusations that he received campaign contributions from the late Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi and was involved in the illegal funding of another presidential campaign in 1995, for which he was spokesman.
Judges are expected to ask Sarkozy to come in for questioning soon.
-- Devorah Lauter
Photo: Then-President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 23, 2011. Credit: Horace Villalobos / European Pressphoto Agency