Prosecutors seek to question scandal-hit French minister

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State prosecutors asked the French government Tuesday to allow them to question Eric Woerth, the labour minister at the centre of a political scandal surrounding France's richest woman.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the government would consider the request made by the prosecutor's office in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre on Wednesday, and would likely agree to it.

The French government's approval is required for a minister to be questioned by judicial officials.

Woerth is dogged by almost daily revelations about his relations with the super-wealthy Liliane Bettencourt, the main shareholder in the multi-billion-dollar L'Oreal cosmetics empire.

Sarkozy and Woerth have forcefully denied any wrongdoing -- including a claim that Woerth received 150,000 euros in Cash for Sarkozy's presidential run -- but allegations have piled up in the complex case.

A government report issued earlier this month said Woerth did not use his authority in his former post as budget minister to shield 87-year-old Bettencourt from the taxman.

Sarkozy nevertheless nudged Woerth to step down as treasurer of the ruling UMP party -- a role that has drawn accusations of conflict of interest.

Separate but interlinked police investigations are continuing into Bettencourt's affairs, over alleged tax evasion and illegal funding of Sarkozy's 2007 presidential bid.

© 2010 AFP

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