Sarkozy's summer of scandals: Is the French president in trouble?
A French prosecutor is now investigating whether Liliane Bettencourt, heiress of the L’Oréal fortune, gave some $190,000 in illegal campaign contributions to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
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Rumors of a Sarkozy cabinet reshuffle this autumn in order to highlight new talent and vigor – is now seen as a reshuffle merely to be rid of corrupt ministers. Prime Minster Francois Fillon was forced to say to journalists today that, "The priority at the moment is not a cabinet reshuffle, but reforming the pension system and cutting deficits.”Skip to next paragraph
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“I will not be surprised to see the left ask Sarkozy to step down in the next few days, but I think it is too early to know what the French really think,” says the Paris political blogger Frederic Saint Clair. “Actually, the French are used to hearing about this kind of story. Every president has had these issues.”
French police today confirmed that roughly $70,000 in cash was removed from a BNP Paribas bank in central Paris by the Bettencourt accountant, Claire Thibout, in the days prior to the 2007 Sarkozy election victory. Ms. Thibout told the Mediapart news site she was ordered by Bettencourt top adviser Patrice De Maistre to take out (150,000 euros) $190,000 in funds to go to Mr. Woerth, who has also served as treasurer of Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party. Since funds over $70,000 could be traced, she only took out that amount, Thibout said.
The Bettencourt scandal originated in a fight between heiress and daughter over some $1.1 billion the senior Bettencourt gave a close male photographer friend – prompting the daughter to allege manipulation. A trial set to open last week was put on hold after it became known that Bettencourt's butler had a year's worth of secret tapes of conversations held in Bettencourt’s parlor and dining area.
One dimension of the current scandals that bothers ordinary French is the ruling party’s immediate passing into law in 2007 a “tax shield” designed to keep French wealth in the country. Instead, it appears from the Bettencourt tapes and from the one day of court last week that many hundreds of millions in taxable accounts were sent offshore – at the same time Bettencourt received some $40 million in a tax rebate from the French treasury, which Woerth would have been aware of. Woerth said this week the rebate was “perfectly legal.”
Amid the controversy and coverage of Bettencourt and Sarkozy, a bipartisan statement by a senior ruling party member, Simone Veil, and a Socialist and former prime minister, Michel Rocard, counseled against a headlong and uninformed accusations. “Each one has the right, and even the democratic duty, to denounce or to defend such or such situation... But to attack ad hominem, to hassle without respite, to denounce without a proof, it is not serving the debate. It is not serving democracy, it weakens it.... It is harmful to human dignity...."
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