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Paper accuses French presidency of breaking journalistic sources law

By the CNN Wire Staff
French socialist deputy Christian Paul holds Le Monde newspaper Tuesday at the French National Assembly in Paris.
French socialist deputy Christian Paul holds Le Monde newspaper Tuesday at the French National Assembly in Paris.
  • Sarkozy and Elysee deny accusations Bettancourt funneled funds to him and party
  • Le Monde says phone records of senior government official were studied
  • Elysee denies charges
  • Bettencourt is France's richest woman
  • France
  • French Politics
  • Nicolas Sarkozy
  • Paris

Paris, France (CNN) -- France's top national newspaper is filing a legal complaint against President Nicolas Sarkozy's administration for allegedly violating a law protecting journalistic sources.

The Paris daily newspaper Le Monde claimed on its front page Monday that the Elysee, France's equivalent of the White House, ordered the country's domestic intelligence service to identify a source who gave information in the Liliane Bettencourt-Eric Woerth story.

Le Monde is widely regarded as France's newspaper of record.

Bettencourt is the elderly heir to the L'Oreal cosmetics empire and France's richest woman. Woerth is Sarkozy's labor minister and the former treasurer of the president's UMP Party. Woerth's wife worked at one time as a financial advisor for Bettencourt.

Paris has been abuzz all summer after Bettencourt's daughter filed legal action over the handling of her mother's financial affairs. That action led to accusations -- quickly denied by Sarkozy and the Elysee -- that Bettencourt had for years funneled funds to Sarkozy and members of his party and government, possibly in violation of campaign finance laws.

In July, Le Monde printed details surrounding the police interrogation of Patrice de Maistre, Bettencourt's top financial adviser; François-Marie Banier, a friend of Bettencourt accused by Bettencourt's daughter of taking advantage of her mother, and Fabrice Goguel, Bettencourt's ex-lawyer.

Le Monde said it was "the publication of this information... that annoyed the Elysée."

"The DCRI services, meaning the counter espionage service was called in... to identify the journalist's source," wrote Sylvie Kauffmann, Le Monde's executive editor.

Le Monde said the DCRI (Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur) studied the telephone records of David Sénat, a senior government official, and confirmed he had spoken to Le Monde reporter, Gérard Davet.

Sénat has since been removed from his post and sent to work on a mission in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana in South America.

"The Elysée completely denies Le Monde's charges and the presidency would like to make it clear that it never gave any order to any service," the Elysee palace said Monday in a statement to the Agence France Presse news agency.

Bernard Accoyer, president of the National Assembly and an official in Sarkozy's UMP party, dismissed the controversy. "The paper in question is putting forward a serious accusation without any proof," he said.

But Benoit Hamon, spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, said, "We ask that light be shed on whether there was phone tapping or not."

CNN's Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report