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Police raid home of Bettencourt aide in French political donations probe

Police have searched the offices and home of the chief financial adviser to France's richest woman as part of a scandal that has included claims of illegal campaign funding to President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party.

A hand putting a wad of money into a jacket pocket

Sarkozy has denied the allegations of illegal donations

French investigators searched the homes and offices of the financial adviser to France's richest woman on Friday, in the latest development in a probe into allegations of illegal campaign donations to President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party.

Authorities were following up on claims made by a former accountant of Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress to the L'Oreal empire, that the billionaire's financial adviser gave 150,000 euros ($188,000) in cash to Eric Woerth, treasurer for the UMP party and now also labor minister.

The limit for donations to political parties in France is 7,500 euros.

The cash was allegedly withdrawn at the request of Patrice de Maistre, Bettencourt's wealth manager, whose premises police searched Friday.

"When you have an investigation of this size, several investigations, this type of search is not surprising," de Maistre's lawyer, Pascal Wilhelm, told news agency Reuters.

Sarkozy has denied the claims that his party received secret cash from the 87-year-old Bettencourt and said the reports were an effort to smear him.

Allies of the embattled French president have also hit back, accusing elements of the country's media of "fascist" tactics.

Author: Darren Mara (AP/Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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