French prosecutor recommends dropping Sarkozy funding probe

BORDEAUX, France, June 28 Fri Jun 28, 2013 10:56am EDT

BORDEAUX, France, June 28 (Reuters) - A French public prosecutor recommended on Friday dropping an investigation into ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and seven other people over allegations of duping L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt into handing over cash for election funds.

The prosecutor handling the case advised that the investigation against the eight, who also include Sarkozy's former budget minister Eric Woerth, be dropped for lack of evidence.

Six others being investigated in the same case, including Bettencourt's former wealth manager, should face trial, the prosecutor in the southwestern city of Bordeaux said.

Three magistrates will decide in the next few weeks whether to follow the prosecutor's advice or not, possibly relieving Sarkozy of a legal headache weighing on his chances of making a political comeback for the 2017 presidential election.

Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation in March for allegedly exploiting the mental frailty of the 90-year-old Bettencourt after she was declared to be in a state of dementia, in order to raise money for his 2007 election campaign.

Under French law, a formal investigation means there is "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to likely implication of a suspect in a crime. It often, but not always, leads to a trial.

Sarkozy, a conservative who lost the May 2012 election to Socialist Francois Hollande, has denied any misconduct and his lawyer said the case was flawed. (Reporting by Claude Cannellas; Writing by Catherine Bremer, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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