French minister rejects fresh tax claims

4th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

France's embattled labour minister rejected fresh conflict of interest claims Wednesday after a newspaper reported that he had intervened in a tax audit at the request of a wealthy party donor.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who was involved in tax matters in his former role as budget minister, was already caught up in financial scandals linked to L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt that have embarrassed the government.

The newspaper Liberation published parts of a letter signed by Woerth in April 2008 which it said showed he worked to ensure 27 million euros (36 million dollars) in tax relief on the inheritance of sculptor Cesar Baldaccini.

The labour ministry Wednesday rejected the report as containing "serious errors" and insisted no laws were broken, though it did not deny that Woerth had intervened in the case of Baldaccini.

"In this case Eric Woerth, while he was budget minister, strictly followed the guidance of the fiscal administration," it said in a short statement, adding: "Everything was done with respect for tax laws."

The newspaper said Woerth acted to obtain tax relief on Baldaccini's inheritance following lobbying by a major financial supporter of President Nicolas Sarkozy's majority UMP party, Alain-Dominique Perrin.

Woerth, who was also UMP party treasurer, is embroiled in probes linked to 87-year-old billionaire Bettencourt, over allegations she illegally bankrolled President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign and sought to evade taxes.

Woerth has denied any wrongdoing and any conflict of interest in his then role as budget minister and fundraiser for the UMP. He has refused to resign as labour minister but stepped down as party treasurer.

© 2010 AFP

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