Government inspectors ease scandal over French minister
French government financial inspectors on Sunday cleared scandal-hit Labour Minister Eric Woerth of accusations that he helped L'Oreal billionaire Liliane Bettencourt evade taxes.
A report by the General Financial Inspection office (IGF), which is under the authority of the finance ministry, said that Woerth did not use his power when he was budget minister to spare Bettencourt from tax inspectors.
"During the period when he was budget minister, (Woerth) did not intervene in the services under his authority to demand, prevent or influence a decision or an inspection affecting Mrs Bettencourt," the report said, according to an extract of the report quoted in a statement from the finance ministry.
Woerth had been linked to alleged attempts to evade taxes by France's richest woman when he was in charge of fighting tax cheats as budget minister.
His name was mentioned in conversations secretly recorded and leaked by her butler, which sparked a widening scandal linked to the billionaire's fortune.
Woerth has also been accused of a conflict of interest because his wife worked for a company managing Bettencourt's estate while he was minister and because he is treasurer for the governing UMP party.
Bettencourt's former accountant alleged last week that Woerth had received 150,000 euros (190,000 dollars) from Bettencourt as a donation for Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign -- far more than the legal limit.
Separate judicial investigations have been opened into those allegations and into Bettencourt's financial affairs.
Sarkozy is due to go on television on Monday evening to speak out directly for the first time about the scandal, the biggest to hit his government so far.
It comes at a sensitive time as Woerth prepares to launch a sensitive pensions bill on Tuesday -- the centrepiece of Sarkozy's reform agenda.
© 2010 AFP