Police conduct new searches in Sarkozy funding scandal

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French police on Monday searched seven homes and offices including that of a friend to L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt as they stepped up a probe that has drawn President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Officials told AFP that Bettencourt's home in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine had been searched but prosecutors in Nanterre said this was incorrected and that she had not been directly targeted.

"Seven searches were carried out on Monday," said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Nanterre, which has opened three investigations involving the 87-year-old billionaire.

Police from the financial crimes unit raided the Paris apartment of photographer Francois-Marie Banier, who is accused by Bettencourt's daughter of making millions by taking advantage of her mother's frailty.

The prosecutor's office declined to give details of the other searches, but denied that Bettencourt's home was on the list.

The searches took place just hours before Sarkozy was to appear on television to try to defuse a scandal over allegations that Bettencourt made illegal donations to his 2007 campaign through his fundraiser and now labour minister Eric Woerth.

Woerth has strenuously denied the allegations and Sarkozy has suggested they are part of a smear campaign.

© 2010 AFP

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