So far, so lives of the rich and famous.
But now the focus has shifted away from Mme. Bettencourt to the French Labour Minister Eric Woerth and his boss / current de facto head of the French Football Federation, Nicolas Sarkozy. The first revelations touching on politics involved tax evasion and a butler, so we can all feel very familiar with that, but now they are coming so thick and fast it can be hard to keep up.
- Woerth’s wife worked for Bettencourt as an investment adviser until resigning on 25 June 2010 – an investigation is under way into alleged tax evasion relating to Bettencourt’s fortune, but the French are having some difficulties reaching an accord with the Switzerland-based Clymene to find out what is going on – she denies any conflict of interest;
- Bettencourt’s former accountant claims she made payments in cash to the UMP, including a donation of €150.000 to Sarko’s presidential election campaign – she may have a slight ulterior motive, given revelations about additional payments received from her employer including a €400.000 redundancy pay-off and intimations of blackmail – she is now moderating her tone, but MediaPart, which broke the story, stands by the basic facts about the donations story;
- The law on party financing sets a limit of €7.500 per person per year to a political party, plus a limit on presidential campaign donations of €4.600 – even ignoring the brown envelope bungs alleged by the accountant, there are queries about previous donations made by the Bettencourts, multiple cheques of the maximum amount having been sent to various sections of the UMP to support various ‘friends’ within it – a memo from Bettencourt’s financial adviser Patrice de Maistre suggesting that it was Woerth himself who suggested how this could best be achieved;
- Woerth has resigned as Treasurer of the UMP (but as of today’s date is still clinging onto his post as Labour Minister – he was Budget Minister before being reshuffled in March) to ‘concentrate exclusively on [the issue of] retirement’ (plans to raise the retirement age are behind the current wave of strikes) – whether he keeps his main job (he has several others – see below) is a bit of a toss-up at present;
- Woerth was behind the sale of a parcel of woodland (plus racecourse and golf course) earlier this year in the region where he is also mayor, to a racing organisation, who are alleged to be friends of his. Previously tenant of the site under a long lease paying €45.000 per annum (such that the total paid under the lease would be over €5 million without rent uplift), the racing organisation paid €2.5 million to buy the site (which was never held out publicly for sale) outright, despite suggestions that the freehold was actually worth €20 million. Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé (and, they claim, the Agriculture Minister) say this was an illegal sale.
So – everyone (in politics) is denying everything, but I seriously doubt that this is the end of the revelations, and it certainly won’t be the end of the Affair.
16 July update
- de Maistre (the financial adviser)
- Goguel (former legal adviser)
- Banier (the young photographer friend)
- Vejerano (manager of the island Bettencourt apparently didn't declare to the taxpeeps - no, really)
- the ex-accountant (Thibout) who claimed she gave envelopes of cash to various high-ups in the UMP, including the alleged €150.000 donation to Sarko's fighting fund, apparently took out another €100.000 in cash just four months before the election - where did that go? (She has also been interviewed by the police)
Good round-up (for francophiles amongst us) here