FORMER president Nicolas Sarkozy is being formally investigated over claims he “took advantage of a vulnerable person” – L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest person – and got her to give illegal donations to his 2007 election campaign.
The legal move is one step short of charging him and a significant hardening of the position of judge Jean-Michel Gentil, who had previously recognised Sarkozy as a “privileged witness” after questioning last November.
Sarkozy, who left the Elysée 10 months ago, had been summoned for questioning at the Palais de Justice in Bordeaux where the investigation is based after being moved away from Paris.
He left late last night after having been questioned since mid-afternoon and confronted by several members of Mrs Bettencourt’s staff – who said he had met the multi-billionairess several times and not just the once as he had testified to the judge in November.
The Bordeaux prosecution service said: “Nicolas Sarkozy, who benefits from the presumption of innocence, has been notified he has been put under formal investigation for taking advantage of a vulnerable person in February 2007 and during 2007 to the detriment of Liliane Bettencourt.”
The move was denounced by Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, as “incoherent and unfair” and he said he would ask for the decision to be overturned.
Photo: Moritz Hager