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Sarkozy in court over illegal donations suspicions

PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, went before a judge Thursday to respond to allegations that he illegally accepted donations from France’s richest woman to fund his 2007 election campaign.

The judge could decide whether Sarkozy, a polarizing figure who often faced criticism for cozy ties to the rich, will be charged with taking advantage of heiress Liliane Bettencourt, 90. Sarkozy has consistently denied all allegations.

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Bettencourt’s former accountant told police that she handed over $192,000 in cash that she was told would be passed on to Sarkozy’s campaign treasurer.

The sum, although it pales in comparison to US campaign funding amounts, shocked many French citizens because spending on political campaigns is tightly limited here. Individual campaign contributions to candidates are limited to about $5,921 .

The inquiry centers on the finances of Bettencourt, the focus of a family feud over her fortune that ballooned in 2010 into a multilayered investigation and political affair. Bettencourt, who was reported to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, has since been placed under legal protection.

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