France's Sarkozy to seek laws curbing conflicts of interest by lawmakers

By Edward Cody
Washington Post staff writer
Monday, July 12, 2010; 4:39 PM

PARIS -- President Nicolas Sarkozy, combating charges of influence-peddling in the French government, said Monday he will seek new laws to guarantee against conflict of interest by ministers, members of parliament and other senior officials.

Sarkozy, in a special television interview, said he also will urge Labor Minister Eric Woerth, who is at the center of the accusations, to abandon his post as chief fundraiser for Sarkozy's political party while he serves as a government minister.

The concessions came after three weeks of suggestions that Woerth may have acted improperly during his previous job as budget minister, in charge of tax collection, while at the same time courting wealthy French businessmen for donations to Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement.

Sarkozy said Woerth was above reproach and depicted the accusations as an attempt by the Socialist Party to prevent Sarkozy from carrying out a widely contested reform in which the retirement age is being pushed back from 60 to 62.

Similarly, he said a desire to frustrate the retirement reforms underlay accusations that he and other conservative politicians received illegal cash payments from France's wealthiest woman, Liliane Bettencourt. A judicial investigation has been launched to see whether the charges are founded.

"This is all a waste of time," he told an interviewer in the garden of his Elysee Palace, suggesting the country should focus instead on its economic problems.

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