Former French leader in election funding scandal

| 22/03/2013

(BBC): French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy has been placed under formal investigation over claims his 2007 election campaign received illegal donations from France's richest woman. Sarkozy is accused of accepting thousands of euros from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, now aged 90. The former leader denies taking financial advantage of Bettencourt. His lawyer said he would file an appeal against the "incoherent and unfair decision", AFP news agency reports. Magistrate Jean-Michel Gentil, who leads the inquiry, unexpectedly summoned Sarkozy for a face-to-face encounter with Bettencourt's butler, Pascal Bonnefoy, in the city of Bordeaux.

The judge wanted to determine how often the politician had met Mrs Bettencourt in 2007. While Mr Sarkozy has maintained he only saw her once during that year, the butler gave a different account on Thursday, the BBC's Christian Fraser, in Paris, reports.

Following the hearing, prosecutors said the ex-president had been placed under formal investigation "for taking advantage of a vulnerable person during 2007 to the detriment of Liliane Bettencourt".

Under French law the court's decision falls short of a formal charge, our correspondent says.

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