By  on July 12, 2010

PARIS — Seeking to refute corruption allegations on national television, French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday night said claims that he may have received envelopes of cash containing illegal campaign donations from Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of L’Oréal’s founder, were “shameful.”

“I read in the press the testimony of Mrs. Bettencourt’s butler, who worked at the house for 17 years,” he said, referring to the court battle over Bettencourt’s assets. “He said, ‘In 17 years, I saw Nicolas Sarkozy at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bettencourt two times, maybe three times.’ And each time, he said it was for a lunch, for a dinner, with numerous people. Do you imagine, during a dinner, before guests at the table, leaving with money?”

In an hourlong interview during which he touched upon a range of subjects including a pending shift in retirement policy, Sarkozy also stood by Eric Woerth, France’s labor minister and treasurer of his party, L’Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. A former Bettencourt accountant told French Web site Mediapart in an interview that Bettencourt was involved in giving Woerth 150,000 euros in cash in spring 2007. The maximum funding allowed for a political party under French law is 7,500 euros.

Woerth was cleared Sunday in an official investigation into whether he had interfered in Bettencourt’s tax affairs so that she was given favorable treatment by tax authorities while he was budget minister.

Sarkozy defended the system in France under which no one pays more than 50 percent in taxes on earnings. He said the cap helps keep companies from moving.

“I wish that [Mrs. Betten-court] remains owner of L’Oréal and that [the company], 17 billion euros in sales, 64,000 employees, doesn’t leave for another country,” he said. “Because at that moment, who pays? It’s the employees who lose their jobs.”

The French press has reported that Bettencourt was reimbursed 30 million euros, or $37.8 million, in March 2008 under the tax shield.

The allegations and lawsuits linked to the Bettencourt affair resulted from a case brought by Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, Bettencourt’s daughter, against photographer François-Marie Banier in December 2007. Bettencourt Meyers alleges that Banier exploited the “weakness” of her mother, who gave him assets valued at about 1 billion euros, or $1.26 billion. The hearing date for that lawsuit is still pending.

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