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Friday, November 23, 2012 - Page updated at 03:30 p.m.

Sarkozy questioned in investigation

By Bloomberg News

PARIS — Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was named a material witness by judges investigating claims that people close to L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt took advantage of the 90-year-old's mental frailty to get at her fortune.

Sarkozy escaped being charged in the matter after 12 hours of grilling in Bordeaux on Thursday by the three judges, according to his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and Bordeaux prosecutors.

The classification of material witness places Sarkozy between a simple witness and a target in the probe.

The judges questioned Sarkozy regarding accusations that the heiress was victim to abuses of her mental frailty, abuses of trust and fraud, the statement said.

Bettencourt's former accountant told police she handed over $192,000 in cash she was told would be passed on to Sarkozy's campaign treasurer. If true, he could be charged with campaign-finance misconduct.

Sarkozy has denied any wrongdoing.

Sarkozy lost his bid for re-election in May, lifting the immunity that accompanies the post of president in France.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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