Ex-French minister takes stand in L'Oreal heiress trial

10th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

France's former budget minister Eric Woerth took the stand Tuesday in a trial over the alleged exploitation of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, denying ever receiving cash from her to finance Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 campaign.

He is one of 10 people in the 92-year-old's entourage to stand trial in the southwestern city of Bordeaux in an explosive drama involving a bitter mother-daughter feud, unscrupulous friends and a butler's betrayal that briefly dragged in Sarkozy.

The 59-year-old ex-minister stands accused of possessing stolen goods.

Bettencourt's former accountant has accused the man who managed her fortune, Patrice de Maistre, of handing money over to Woerth when he was campaign treasurer for Sarkozy in his 2007 run for office.

"I know what I did, I know what I didn't do," Woerth told the court.

"I did not receive cash from Mr. de Maistre to finance this campaign or anything else."

The affair tarnished the latter half of Sarkozy's presidency and when he lost the 2012 election, he was placed under formal investigation for illegal campaign financing and taking advantage of Bettencourt.

However the charges against Sarkozy were dropped in October 2013 due to lack of evidence.

The trial has already seen other members of Bettencourt's entourage take the stand -- among them Francois-Marie Banier, a 67-year-old artist who is godfather to Johnny Depp's daughter and who befriended the woman, whom Forbes magazine describes as the world's 10th richest person.

He is suspected of having taken advantage of the frail heiress who showered him with gifts such as paintings by Picasso and Matisse, life insurance funds and millions of euros in cash.

But on Tuesday, the trial zoomed in on the far smaller amount of 50,000 euros ($57,000) that Woerth is suspected of having received from de Maistre.

Bettencourt's former accountant Claire Thibout accuses de Maistre of having asked her in early 2007 to take out 150,000 euros for Woerth.

"It's for Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign," she accuses him of having said. De Maistre denies ever having asked her for the money.

Thibout says she was only able to take out 50,000 euros, which she gave to Bettencourt, who gave it to de Maistre -- another claim he denies.

Woerth and de Maistre admit meeting up in January 2007, but the man who then became budget minister under Sarkozy said it was only to discuss potential donors for the latter's ultimately successful campaign.

© 2015 AFP

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