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Police search Nicolas Sarkozy party offices in L'Oréal investigation

Police searched the headquarters of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party yesterday as part of an investigation into alleged illegal campaign funding and influence-trading.

Although the visit was initially described in the French media as a "raid", it later emerged that party officials had been tipped off 24 hours in advance.

Police from the financial crime brigade were searching for documents which might throw light on allegations that France's wealthiest woman, the chief shareholder in L'Oréal, Liliane Bettencourt, had provided illicit funding for President Sarkozy's successful election campaign in 2007.

In particular, they were said to be searching for evidence that the former party treasurer Eric Woerth, now Labour minister, had lobbied for France's highest civilian honour, the Légion d'Honneur, to be presented to Ms Bettencourt's financial manager, Patrice de Maistre.

Eric Cesari, the director general of France's ruling centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) played down the significance of the visit. "They were just looking for information. They wanted to check certain documents," he said.

Nothing was seized and no officials were questioned during the search which lasted 90 minutes. But the fact that the police chose not to "raid" the UMP unannounced – as they frequently do on such occasions – will inevitably prompt further questions.

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