* Case concerns diary entry that raised funding suspicion
* Result of interrogation lifts cloud over future
* Many want Sarkozy back as feud plagues conservative party
(Adds prosecutor comment in paragraph 5, edits)
By Brian Love
PARIS, Nov 23 A judge investigating Nicolas
Sarkozy's campaign funding mistook a Colombian hostage for a
billionaire backer of France's right-wing party when he queried
a meeting in the ex-president's diary, a lawyer for Sarkozy
Sarkozy, who lost power in May, was questioned for 12 hours
on Thursday by a judge who is trying to establish whether his
election win in 2007 was aided by illegal funding from France's
richest woman, 90-year-old Liliane Bettencourt.
Rather than Bettencourt, daughter of the founder of the
L'Oreal cosmetics empire, the diary entry referred to
the Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage in
Colombia for six years and freed in 2007, lawyer Thierry Herzog
told French radio.
Herzog said judge Jean-Michel Gentil had made a note reading
"name spelt wrongly" next to the name "Betancourt" on a list of
Sarkozy's appointments, implying that he had believed the
meeting was with the L'Oreal heiress, but eventually
acknowledged his mistake.
In a statement on behalf of the judge, Bordeaux prosecutor
Claude Laplaud did not deny Herzog's account, but said Sarkozy
had not been summoned specifically to discuss the meeting with
Ingrid Betancourt, and had not been questioned about it.
Gentil decided after the questioning not to open a
full-blown inquiry into Sarkozy, who has bowed out of politics
but remains a possible candidate for the conservative camp in
the next presidential contest in 2017.
Sarkozy's departure has sparked a feud within his UMP party,
where two men who faced off in an internal leadership election
are exchanging accusations of fraud.
A BVA poll released on Friday indicated that 73 percent of
conservative voters want Sarkozy back in politics.
It pointed to plunges in the popularity of the two men who
fought to take his place as leader of the mainstream right,
Francois Fillon and eventual winner Jean-Francois Cope.
Herzog said the ex-president, who denies any wrongdoing, was
relieved after Thursday's meeting with the magistrates.
Gentil and two other judges who questioned Sarkozy
classified him as a witness, a status in French judicial
procedure that signals he is not liable to face trial.
Initial suspicions were fuelled three years ago when a woman
who worked as an accountant for the mentally frail Bettencourt,
now aged 90, alleged that a large cash withdrawal had been
earmarked for Sarkozy's campaign.
Liliane Bettencourt's family has long had close connections
with the UMP party of Sarkozy, who lost presidential immunity
when he left office.
"For him and for me, this affair is an affair that no longer
exists," said Herzog.
Sarkozy may also be asked to testify in two other judicial
investigations, concerning the terms of a submarine sale to
Pakistan and lavish spending on opinion polls by his office when
he was president.
While the BVA poll suggested that three in four
conservatives want to see Sarkozy back in action, it also
indicated that 65 percent of French voters more generally do not
want him back after he lost May's presidential election to
Socialist Francois Hollande.
(Additional reporting by Claude Canellas; Editing by Kevin