Police prolong detentions in French finance scandal

16th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

French police prolonged Friday their questioning of four associates of France's richest woman as they probed a tax scandal that has rocked the government, an official said.

Investigators probing L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt extended by 24 hours the detention of her financial advisor Patrice de Maistre and celebrity photographer Francois-Marie Banier, who were held for questioning on Thursday.

De Maistre was accused in media reports based on secretly recorded conversations of overseeing a bid to evade French tax, while Bettencourt's daughter accuses Banier of tricking her mother out of a billion euros in gifts.

Judges also prolonged the detention of Bettencourt's former tax lawyer Fabrice Goguel and Carlos Vejarano, manager of a Seychelles island which Bettencourt allegedly owns and used as a tax haven.

Police can hold the four men for 48 hours in total after which they must decide whether to press charges. The men are being questioned by investigators in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Police have opened three investigations involving Bettencourt, following allegations of tax evasion and of illegal donations to President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign -- charges that all parties have denied.

© 2010 AFP

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