French labor minister questioned by police over Bettencourt affair

21:57, July 29, 2010      

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French Labor Minister Eric Woerth was questioned Thursday by police on his involvement in alleged tax evasion by Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in France.

The judicial questioning was conducted by financial police officers in Thursday morning at the minister's office in Paris.

Woerth's lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne refused to give comments, saying there would likely be a news conference on the issue before this evening, local media reported.

According to Nanterre prosecutors in charge of the inquiry, the minister would be asked on all elements that are of interest to investigators.

Primary investigation concerning the minister on the Bettencourt affair began last week after Wednesday cabinet meeting.

Bettencourt, the heirness of the L'Oreal, is in legal dispute with her daughter, which exposed allegations of tax evasion and illegal funding for the ruling party UMP during President Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007.

Woerth, who served as UMP's party treasurer at the time, was accused of accepting illegal funding. Besides, his wife's job of financial advisor to Bettencourt's fortune was allegedly gained under his influence.

The minister said he would like to explain himself as soon as possible and accepted the judicial investigation.

Woerth's lawyer said the minister, who canceled a work trip to a province scheduled for Thursday morning, would be questioned as a witness rather than a suspect in the case.

Following the emergence of the scandal, he quitted the job as UMP's treasurer, which will take effect by the end of July.

The lawyer of Patrice de Maistre, the manager of Bettencout's asset, has claimed in separate investigations that the manager indeed met Woerth in the controversial 2007 period, but denied any fund from the manager to the UMP's treasurer.

Woerth's wife was already heard on July 21 by investigators. Her lawyer asserted it was not de Maistre, who talked with Woerth over his wife's career in early 2007, that led to the hiring of Ms. Woerth in the same month.

"I have never asked anyone to hire my wife," the labor minister insisted last week, underlining the wish to clean his name as soon as possible.

Source: Xinhua


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