One of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s close aides is being formally investigated for financial wrongdoing.
Eric Woerth, a one-time budget minister, is under the spotlight regarding a cash payment of 150,000 euros from the country’s richest woman.
The money is said to have been for financing Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.
If so, the payment would be illegal because donations from individuals are limited to 4,600 euros under French law.
Sarkozy is shortly expected to announce his candidacy for the French presidency, which will eb ahead of April’s election.
Jean-Yves Leborgne, Eric Woerth’s lawyer, dismissed the allegations.
“Let me repeat, there are no facts in this matter that are likely to make us fear anything,” Leborgne said.
The money came from Liliane Bettencourt, who is the heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetic fortune and worth an estimated 17.6 billion euros.
Woerth was also questioned about using his influence to secure an honour for her financial manager.
He denies any wrongdoing.