Three Sarkozy allies to be questioned as Bettencourt probe nears its dramatic conclusion

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The judge carrying out the high-profile investigation into the Bettencourt affair involving France's wealthiest woman, allegations of financial abuse and claims of political corruption at the highest levels, has ordered three allies of former President Nicolas Sarkozy to be questioned as witnesses. Judge Jean-Michel Gentil, who is said to be close to completing his mammoth task, is examining whether L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt's mental frailty was taken advantage of by those around her. But the publicity-shy judge is also investigating claims that the billionaire’s money was illegally used to fund Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign. There are also allegations that the Elysée Palace tried to stop a proper investigation into the affair and that France's domestic spy chief himself became involved. As Michel Deléan reports, the judge is leaving no stone unturned in his inquiries.

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It has to be said that judge Jean-Michel Gentil is working flat out. Helped by two colleagues from the Bordeaux District Court, the investigating judge has devoted himself exclusively to working on the Bettencourt affair, a case he took over in December 2010. It is a high-profile investigation involving claims that France's wealthiest woman, the octogenarian Liliane Bettencourt, was taken advantage of by those around her, that Bettencourt money was used to fund, illegally, Nicolas Sarkozy's successful 2007 presidential campaign and that attempts were made at the highest level to prevent proper investigation of the affair.

In the latest development Mediapart has learned that the judge has now ordered for three people close to Sarkozy - Thierry Herzog, Xavier Musca and Patrick Ouart – to be questioned by police officers in connection with the much-publicised affair.