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Sarkozy minister embroiled in secret tapes scandal

A scandal over secretly taped conversations involving France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, threatened today to engulf a high-profile minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2010 23:31 IST

A scandal over secretly taped conversations involving France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, threatened today to engulf a high-profile minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who is leading the government's pension reform, was forced to hit back after his wife was linked to the furore over the tapes reportedly revealing that the 87-year-old billionaire plotted to evade taxes.

"Enough is enough. My wife is going to file a complaint," Woerth said in an interview with several French media. He vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Woerth's wife Florence managed part of Bettencourt's financial affairs from 2007 until this year and her ties to the heiress of the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune have come under scrutiny following reports of the secret tapes.

The conversations -- transcripts of which were published by the Mediapart website last week -- reveal that Bettencourt allegedly hid money in Swiss bank accounts while making big donations to friends in the governing UMP party.

The tapes were recorded by Bettencourt's former butler and have brought a new twist to a legal saga between the billionaire and her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, who sees her mother as no longer fit to manage the family fortune.

The makeup heiress ranks 17th on the Forbes list of the world's billionaires, with a fortune estimated at $20 billion.

The scandal comes at a delicate time for Sarkozy who is seeking to push through an overhaul of the pensions system in the face of opposition from the unions who have called for nationwide strikes.