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Former government minister and the treasurer of Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, Éric Woerth, has been cleared in two separate trials resulting from the extraordinary saga of the Bettencourt affair. But photographer François-Marie Banier has been sentenced to prison for his role in abusing the frailty of France's richest woman, billionaire L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, from whom he received up to 414 million euros. Also jailed for abusing Bettencourt's frailty was her former wealth manager Patrice de Maistre. The jail sentences are the climax of a long-running saga that has gripped France, involving secret tapes made by Bettencourt's butler, claims that a circle of advisors and hangers-on preyed off the ageing billionaires, and amid allegations of covert political funding of the right-wing UMP party. At one point former president Nicolas Sarkozy had himself been placed under formal investigation over the affair, though the case against him was later dropped. Woerth, meanwhile, was acquitted both of 'receiving' illicit cash for party funding via Maistre from Liliane Bettencourt – even though judges said there was a “strong suspicion” that some money had been handed over - and, in a separate trial, of 'influence peddling'. The judges' decision to acquit the former minister, while eight other defendants were convicted, means that in effect they have 'de-politicised' the affair. Michel Deléan reports.
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