Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Allegations of Corruption Swirl around Sarkozy Ally

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Allegations of Corruption Swirl around Sarkozy Ally

Article excerpt

The ally, Claude Gueant, a onetime interior minister, was also the shadowy operative at the center of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency and political rise.

A small tempest of allegations has gathered in recent days over one of the closest allies of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is himself under investigation on charges that he manipulated France's richest woman for donations to his 2007 campaign, charges he denies.

The ally, Claude Gueant, a onetime interior minister, was also the shadowy operative at the center of Mr. Sarkozy's presidency and political rise. The scandal revolves around a large bank transfer, two Flemish paintings, an unidentified Malaysian lawyer, tens of thousands of dollars in cash payments and Mr. Gueant's sometimes contradictory efforts to explain the matter away.

The revelations come at an awkward moment for France's political class. The charges against Mr. Sarkozy -- who has denied accepting campaign money from Liliane Bettencourt, 90, the heiress to the L'Oreal fortune -- stirred shock on the right and quiet exultation on the left when they were announced in March. Last month, after resigning as budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac admitted to keeping an undeclared Swiss bank account for years.

President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, has pledged more transparency in French politics, especially concerning financial assets, but his approval ratings are at record lows. Yet politicians on both the left and the right have said little about Mr. Gueant's case, perhaps, analysts suggest, because it may reveal unsavory practices in which they, too, have been involved.

On Feb. 27, magistrates investigating still other accusations of electoral fraud -- claims that Mr. Sarkozy's 2007 campaign received illegal funding from Libya -- seized evidence at Mr. Gueant's home and office in Paris. Earlier that day, magistrates investigating another case linked to Mr. Sarkozy had conducted visits of their own, according to Le Canard Enchaine, the satirical, investigative weekly newspaper that first reported the searches last week.

Investigators came upon records of a $650,000 transfer to Mr. …

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