WHAT was billed as a promising summer trial into the mental state of France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, and an inheritance row has roared rapidly into a scandal over illegal funding for France’s ruling UMP party.
It has pulled in Finance Minister Eric Woerth and at one point even envoked the name of President Sarkozy, all because of a small news website.
Mediapart.fr obtained not only recordings of conversations between L’Oréal heir Mrs Bettencourt and her financial adviser, which name-dropped Woerth (who is both Finance Minister and treasurer of the UMP) several times, but also published an exclusive interview with Mrs Bettencourt’s former accountant Claire Thibout, who claimed she was involved in illegally funelling €150,000 towards the ruling UMP.
While the site initially reported this money went towards Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign, Thibout has denied this claim, but has repeated that the UMP received illegal funds.
UMP ministers attacked Mediapart for “fascist” tactics and other references to French newspapers of the 1930s, but few attempted to deny the story.
Meanwhile a police investigation has opened into the accusations of a breach of France’s party funding laws.
Woerth is sueing Mediapart for defamation, Mediapart is suing UMP party chairman Xavier Bertrand for his “fascist” claim and Mr Sarkozy has already made one TV appearance denying the receipt of illegal funds and pointing at one obvious truth: that important issues such as the national debt and pensions were being ignored