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Sarkozy's summer of scandals: Is the French president in trouble?

A French prosecutor is now investigating whether Liliane Bettencourt, heiress of the L’Oréal fortune, gave some $190,000 in illegal campaign contributions to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, welcomes his newly elected German counterpart Christian Wulff, left, at the Elysee Palace in Paris Wednesday.

Michel Spingler/AP

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A court case scandal involving the world’s third-richest woman and her daughter now threatens to engulf France’s highest elected official, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Allegations of corruption – as the president's approval ratings slide to a low of 26 percent – come on top of a string of other problems for Sarkozy.

A French prosecutor today said he will probe whether Liliane Bettencourt, heiress of the L’Oréal fortune, gave some $190,000 in illegal contributions to Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential bid. A longtime accountant for Ms. Bettencourt told a French news website she participated in the cash transfer. She alleged Sarkozy took envelopes of cash as a dinner guest at the Bettencourt home two decades ago.

Just last week, Mr. Sarkozy’s trusted labor minister Eric Woerth received prominent attention after tapes made by a Bettencourt butler showed possible tax evasion crimes by Bettencourt at a time when Mr. Woerth’s wife was a key financial adviser to the 87-year old, whose worth is $20 billion, according to Forbes.

Now suddenly and sharply, early July is proving a nadir for Sarkozy and his high-energy political machine.

So far, little hard evidence has come to light to topple the French president, despite a salivating French press. Even tough critics like Jean-Francois Kahn point to a lack of any smoking guns. Sarkozy is instead seen as beleaguered by a surfeit of small scandals brought on partly by his cultivating of glamour and jet-set friends. But the French media are saying the Bettencourt scandal is becoming the Sarkozy crisis.


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