L'Oreal heir's wealth manager denies illegal donations to minister

The wealth manager of France's richest woman has denied giving illegal cash donations to labour minister Eric Woerth, ahead of the questioning of the L'Oreal heiress and the minister by police this week.

The donations allegation was made by a former bookkeeper for Liliane Bettencourt, 87 - the main shareholder in cosmetics giant L'Oreal - and has led to probes into alleged tax evasion and money laundering.

The issue has transfixed the French public and embarrassed president Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

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The bookkeeper, Claire Thibout, told police she had been involved in withdrawing €150,000 in cash to be given to Mr Woerth in unmarked envelopes as a donation to Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign. The president and minister have both denied receiving illicit donations.

When asked whether he had handed over the €150,000 to Mr Woerth in January 2007, Patrice de Maistre said: "I have never dealt with their (the Bettencourt family's] personal wealth. The accusations are ridiculous."

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