Independent probe urged in France Bettencourt scandal
A French prosecutor called on Tuesday for an independent judge to take over investigations linked to the L'Oreal cosmetics billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, which have embarrassed the government.
The call came amid a complex web of probes into Bettencourt's financial affairs with charges of conflict of interest implicating Labour Minister Eric Woerth and criticism of the prosecutor leading them.
In a statement, the state prosecutor's office in Versailles near Paris said it had asked judges "to open a judicial investigation into all of the preliminary inquiries being made in the Bettencourt affair".
Such an investigation would involve the appointing of a separate judge who, unlike state prosecutors, would be independent from the authority of the justice ministry.
The state prosecutor leading the Bettencourt inquiries, Philippe Courroye, has been accused of having too-close links to the political world and media have reported damaging disagreements between him and another magistrate in one of the probes.
The affair embarrassed President Nicolas Sarkozy's government over the summer, when a former employee of Bettencourt alleged his UMP party had received illegal funding from the billionaire.
Woerth and the government have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
© 2010 AFP