French financial inspectors have cleared Labor Minister Eric Woerth of helping France’s richest woman to avoid paying tax. Meanwhile, President Sarkozy is to appear on TV to try to quell a political funding scandal.
Woerth was found not to have abused his position
French financial investigators have cleared the country's labor minister, Eric Woerth, of accusations that he helped the L'Oreal billionaire Liliane Bettencourt to evade taxes.
The findings came as welcome news for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government has been rocked in recent weeks by a scandal over political donations.
Sarkozy aims to prevent further embarassment for his government
France's General Financial Inspection office (IGF) said Woerth did not use his powers while serving as budget minister to prevent the tax affairs of Bettencourt from being investigated.
"During the period when he was budget minister, Woerth did not intervene in the services under his authority to demand, prevent or influence a decision or an inspection affecting Mrs. Bettencourt," read a statement issued by the French finance ministry, which presides over the IGF, on Sunday.
However questions remain about Woerth's role as treasurer of Sarkozy's UMP, in alleged illegal donations to the party and his links to Bettencourt.
Conflict of interest?
The politician, whose wife worked for a company managing Bettencourt's estate, has been accused of having a conflict of interest. A former accountant for Bettencourt alleged last week that Woerth had been given 150,000 euros ($190,000) from the 87-year-old heiress as a donation for Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007, a sum far above than the legal limit.
Separate investigations have been opened into those allegations, as well as Bettencourt's financial affairs.
Sarkozy is to appear on television on Monday evening to talk about the scandal for the first time. The appearance comes as Woerth prepares to launch a controversial pensions bill on Tuesday, a central plank of Sarkozy's reform agenda ahead of elections in 2012.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP/Reuters/AP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold