French government backs minister in L'Oreal heiress row

27th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The French government on Sunday rallied around Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who, along with his wife, is embroiled in a political row over tax evasion by France's richest woman.

"There is no trace ... of any intervention by Eric Woerth in this affair or in any other," Budget Minister Francois Baroin told Europe 1 radio. "He is a man who has done a lot to fight against fiscal fraud."

Patrick Devedjian, the minister for economic recovery, said that critics of Woerth were using "collateral and low attacks" to try to undermine the controversial pension reform he is overseeing.

President Nicolas Sarkozy voiced "total" support on Saturday for Woerth, who has denied his wife Florence turned a blind eye to tax evasion as she helped manage Liliane Bettencourt's 16-billion-euro (20-billion-dollar) fortune.

Florence Woerth has also vehemently denied being aware of financial fraud on the part of Bettencourt, the 87-year-old heiress to the L'Oreal cosmetics empire.

Woerth is a rising star in Sarkozy's government who was known as "Mr Clean" and in a previous post as budget minister led a major crackdown on tax evasion.

The head of the opposition centrist Modem movement, Francois Bayrou, said Saturday the Bettencourt affair had "weakened" both Woerth and the government.

Bettencourt has been at the centre of a political storm since last week when secret tapes revealed she had allegedly conspired to hide money in Swiss bank accounts while making donations to friends in Sarkozy's UMP party.

The tapes are the latest twist in a long-running family feud between the billionaire and her daughter, who claims Bettencourt is mentally unfit after she gave more than a billion euros to a photographer friend.

© 2010 AFP

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