Sarkozy's office accused of using counter-intelligence service to muzzle French press

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London, Sept 14 (ANI): French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused by one of the country's most prominent newspapers, Le Monde, of illegally using the counter-intelligence service for spying on its journalists and stopping leaks about an investigation into the finances of France's richest woman.

According to The Telegraph, the paper is filing a lawsuit for "violation of the secrecy of sources", accusing Elysie Palace of asking its domestic intelligence service (DCRI) to identify a source in the scandal surrounding Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Orial billionaire.

The newspaper claimed that the president's office was annoyed by a story it ran in July naming Labour Minister Eric Woerth in connection with an investigation into the finances of France's richest woman, Bettencourt. It further ordered the French MI5 to find out who had leaked to one of its journalists testimonies by Bettencourt's entourage, given as part of a preliminary inquiry in mid July.

Secret tapes of Bettencourt's conversations with her advisers and the photographer, Frangois-Marie Banier, were handed to the police and leaked to the press in July.

The tapes also indicated that Bettencourt, the largest shareholder in the cosmetics giant L'Orial, had been sheltered from possible charges of tax evasion by her links with the Sarkozy government.

The scandal seriously damaged Woerth's credibility as he prepared to present a key pension reform to parliament, and has helped keep Sarkozy's approval ratings at all time lows, the paper reports.

However, the president's office rejected all of the paper's claims and added that it had "never given a single instruction" to investigate Le Monde's sources.

"The presidency emphasises the fact that it has never given the slightest order to any service whatsoever," the Elysie said in a statement. (ANI)

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