An explosive new book set to be published on Thursday claims that the nurse of L'Oréal billionaire Lilian Bettencourt saw Nicolas Sarkozy receiving money at her home.

"/> An explosive new book set to be published on Thursday claims that the nurse of L'Oréal billionaire Lilian Bettencourt saw Nicolas Sarkozy receiving money at her home.

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Sarkozy denies taking cash from Bettencourt

An explosive new book set to be published on Thursday claims that the nurse of L'Oréal billionaire Lilian Bettencourt saw Nicolas Sarkozy receiving money at her home.

Sarkozy denies taking cash from Bettencourt
Kenji-Baptiste Oikawa (file)

The book, passages of which were published in newspaper Libération on Wednesday morning under the headline “The Bettencourt affair arrives at the Elysée”, re-ignites an issue which first became public in June 2010.

The affair revolved around allegations from a former Bettencourt employee that Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party had received illegal funding from the billionaire as part of his presidential election campaign. These allegations were denied by the party.

The Elysée Palace, official residence of the president, was quick to deny the new allegations.

“These are scandalous, unfounded and untrue allegations,” a spokesman told Reuters.

The charges are made in a book, ‘Sarko m’a tuer’ (Sarkozy killed me), written by two journalists from Le Monde newspaper.

They quote a judge who previously worked on the inquiry, Isabelle Prévost-Desprez, who said she was surprised by the fear that many witnesses had when they were being questioned. 

“[They were] scared to make a statement about Nicolas Sarkozy,” she said.

Prévost-Desprez, who is no longer part of the official inquiry, claims that Bettencourt’s nurse spoke to her clerk after the judge had interviewed her and said she had seen “money being handed to Sarkozy” but that she “couldn’t say it in my statement.”

Government spokeswoman and budget minister Valérie Pécresse criticized the “press rumours” on television channel France 2 on Wednesday morning.

“When there are accusations to be made, they shouldn’t be made in a book or in the press but in court,” she said.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson