Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy jogs in Paris.
Photo by Reuters
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy denied receiving "a
penny" in campaign funds from France's richest woman Liliane
Bettencourt, according to excerpts of his testimony to judges
published on Saturday by the French daily Sud-Ouest.
Sarkozy, who lost power in May, was questioned for 12 hours
on Thursday (local time) by a judge who is trying to
establish whether his election win in 2007 was aided by
illegal funding by the L'Oreal heiress.
He denies any wrongdoing and his spokeswoman was not
immediately available to comment on Saturday about the
"I have known the Bettencourts since I was 28-years-old. I am
now 57," Sarkozy told judges, according to excerpts of his
testimony published by Sud-Ouest.
"I have conducted five municipal campaigns," Sarkozy said
about the Paris suburb Neuilly of which he was mayor and
where Bettencourt and her daughter still live.
"They never gave me a penny, I never gave them one and I
never asked them for anything. I was not going to start at 52
as France's president."
Sarkozy has bowed out of politics but remains a possible
candidate for the conservative camp in the next presidential
contest in 2017.
Initial suspicions over funding were fuelled three years ago
when a woman who worked as an accountant for the mentally
frail Bettencourt alleged that a large cash withdrawal was
earmarked for Sarkozy's presidential election campaign.
Bettencourt was declared in a state of dementia in 2006 and
was placed under the guardianship of her family in 2011.
Asked about Bettencourt's mental health, Sud-Ouest quoted
Sarkozy as saying: "When I see her, I do not see any sign (of
vulnerability). She is well dressed, she does not stutter,
she does not say any implausible things."
The Bettencourt family, which is still the largest individual
shareholder in cosmetics giant L'Oreal with a 30 percent
stake, has long had close connections with the UMP Party of
Sarkozy, who lost presidential immunity when he left office.
The judges who questioned Sarkozy classified him as a
witness, a status in French judicial procedure which means he
is not liable to face trial.
The Bettencourt affair is not the only thorn in Sarkozy's
side. The former French president may also be asked to
testify in two other judicial investigations concerning the
terms of a submarine sale to Pakistan and lavish spending on
opinion polls by his office when he was president.