Timeline - France's Bettencourt affair

Tue Jul 6, 2010 3:13pm BST

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(Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy denied allegations on Tuesday that his party had received illegal campaign donations in cash from France's richest woman and her husband.

Here is a timeline of the Bettencourt affair, which dates back several years but has taken a political turn over the past few weeks and put the government under huge pressure.

Late 2007 - Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer, the daughter of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, files a criminal complaint against photographer and socialite Francois-Marie Banier. She accuses him of taking advantage of her mother's frailty after Bettencourt showered him with gifts worth about 1 billion euros. Banier denies any wrongdoing.

December 2009 - The daughter launches a civil lawsuit to try to have Bettencourt declared legally irresponsible and placed under the authority of the court.

June 16, 2010 - Secret recordings of conversations between Bettencourt and her wealth manager, taped by Bettencourt's former butler, are passed to the police by her daughter. Media reports said the transcripts refer to undeclared holdings in the Seychelles and Switzerland, and also campaign donations made to members of the ruling centre-right UMP party, including Labour Minister Eric Woerth, the party's treasurer.

June 17 - Woerth says he did not procure a job for his wife, Florence, at the firm that manages the heiress' fortune, and denies having received money from Bettencourt. He says the allegations are an attempt to discredit him and prevent him pushing through a politically sensitive pension reform.

June 20 - Economy Minster Christine Lagarde says there will be an investigation if allegations of tax evasion by Bettencourt are proven true. Some opposition politicians call for Woerth to resign, accusing him of a conflict of interest.

June 21 - Woerth announces that his wife will step down from her role at the wealth management company. Bettencourt says she will work with the tax authorities to bring her overseas assets into line.

June 25 - Woerth denies having blocked a tax investigation into possible fraud by Bettencourt after a magistrate says he reported suspicions to the Budget Ministry in January 2009.

June 27 - Woerth's successor as budget minister says the authorities will carry out a full review of Bettencourt's tax returns. Sarkozy says he has full confidence in the labour minister, whom he needs to push through the pension reforms.

June 28 - Florence Woerth tells newspaper Le Monde that she underestimated the extent of the conflict of interest posed by her role and her husband's position as budget minister.

July 1 - The trial of Banier opens and is quickly adjourned to give police time to investigate the secret recordings, as an opinion poll shows Sarkozy's approval rating has hit a record low of 26 percent, partly due to the Woerth allegations.

July 5 - Two junior ministers embroiled in expenses scandals stand down in a rare double resignation. Analysts see it as an unsuccessful attempt to draw attention away from Woerth and restore some credibility to Sarkozy's battered government.

July 6 - A former bookkeeper for Bettencourt alleges in a media interview that Sarkozy's party received illegal campaign donations in cash from the heiress and her late husband. The president's office and Woerth swiftly denied the allegations. Woerth says he will not resign.

(reporting by Victoria Bryan, editing by Paul Taylor)

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