Judges to probe France's Bettencourt scandal
A French state prosecutor on Friday handed over control of inquiries linked to the L'Oreal cosmetics billionaire Liliane Bettencourt, which have embarrassed the government, to independent judges.
Philippe Courroye handed over the complex web of probes to three different judges, judicial sources told AFP, following criticism that he was too close to the political world implicated in the alleged scandals.
The move came after the main prosecutor in Versailles outside Paris, Courroye's superior, instructed him on Tuesday to hand over the probes to independent judges.
Courroye was previously in charge of separate investigations linked to Bettencourt's fortune, including allegations of tax evasion and illegal campaign funding that have implicated French Labour Minister Eric Woerth.
Unlike state prosecutors, the judges are independent from the authority of the justice ministry.
Media have reported damaging disagreements between Courroye 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 any wrongdoing.
© 2010 AFP