L’Oréal heiress in political stink
Butler’s tapes threaten Sarkozy
The butler in question says he was just trying to protect his boss – France’s richest woman and heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune, 87-year-old Liliane Bettencourt. But by making secret recordings of conversations between Ms. Bettencourt and the manager of her $22-billion fortune, he unwittingly unleashed a political storm that is threatening to obliterate Mr. Sarkozy’s government.The butler was not heard to say, "J'accuse!"
An already unpopular Mr. Sarkozy is now facing the biggest crisis of his presidency, after allegations were published yesterday that he was given nearly $200,000 in illegal donations from Ms. Bettencourt and her husband to help finance his presidential campaign.
Labour Minister Éric Woerth is facing similar allegations and fighting for his political life, after the butler’s secret tapes revealed that he had solicited a job for his wife managing Ms. Bettencourt’s finances while he was finance minister, and then ignored reports that she was evading taxes.
The court heard last week that Ms. Bettencourt’s ex-butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, who was horrified at how she was being treated, hid a tape recorder in the bone china brought to her office and recorded conversations between her and Patrice de Maistre, 63, manager of her fortune and head of her holding company, Clymene.On the menu, Stuffed Brown Envelopes
The tapes showed that Ms. Bettencourt is deaf, often confused and avoided paying taxes by keeping much of her fortune in Swiss bank accounts. They also revealed that Mr. Woerth had solicited a job for his wife with Ms. Bettencourt while he was finance minister and was running a high-profile campaign to catch wealthy tax cheats. An even bigger bombshell for the government was the news that Mr. Woerth had approved a $39-million tax rebate for Ms. Bettencourt, even though the government had not examined her finances for more than 10 years.
The latest allegations come from Ms. Bettencourt’s former accountant, Claire Thibout. After speaking to police on Monday, she told the online news site Mediapart that Mr. Woerth and Mr. Sarkozy were part of a parade of conservative politicians who came to the Bettencourt mansion in the posh Paris suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine to have lunch and collect thousands of euros stuffed into unmarked brown envelopes.
She said Mr. Woerth, who was in charge of financing for the UMP, left with $200,000 in March of 2007, destined for Mr. Sarkozy’s presidential campaign. She said Mr. Sarkozy regularly received cash-stuffed envelopes when he was mayor of Neuilly.
“Since Mr. and Mrs. Bettencourt were both deaf, they talked very loudly,” she told Mediapart. “Everyone in the house knew that Sarkozy came to see the Bettencourts to pick up money. He was a regular.”