Sarkozy charged in illegal party funding probe

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with taking financial advantage of France’s richest woman, as part of a probe into illegal party funding that could shatter his hopes of a political comeback.

His lawyers said they would appeal against the decision to formally investigate Sarkozy over allegations he took advantage of elderly L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt when she was weakened by poor health.

He was unexpectedly summoned on Thursday to the Bordeaux offices of Jean-Michel Gentil, the judge in charge of the case, for face-to-face encounters with at least four former members of Bettencourt’s staff. The surprise confrontation came over claims he had accepted envelopes stuffed with cash from the world’s richest woman to fund his 2007 election campaign.

Gentil was seeking to establish how many times Sarkozy had visited Bettencourt during his successful campaign.

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