Police searched the headquarters of Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP in Paris as part of a probe into a financing scandal [AFP]

French police have searched Nicolas Sarkozy's party headquarters in Paris as part of an investigation into a financial scandal linked to Europe's richest woman.

The visit, which took place on Wednesday afternoon, is the first time that the French president's ruling UMP party has been targetted by inquiries into affairs connected to the fortune of L-Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

A police spokesman said officers were seeking correspondence between Eric Woerth, France's Labour minister, and Patrice de Maistre, the manager of Bettencourt's $22bn fortune.

The party confirmed the police visit but said the search did not amount to a raid.

'Conflict of interest'

Eric Cesari, the party's director-general, told the AFP news agency that officers had spent over an hour at the headquarters checking archives, but did not take anything with them.

He said the search was ordered by a prosecutor in a western Paris suburb, who is investigating various
aspects of Bettencourt's affairs and allegations implicating Woerth.

Woerth, a former UMP treasurer and head fundraiser for Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, has been accused of a conflict of interest because his wife worked for Maistre, helping manage the billionairess's estate.

Woerth and Maistre have denied any wrongdoing.

Several judicial investigations are under way into affairs linked to Bettencourt's fortune, including allegations of tax evasion and illegal campaign funding.

Source: Agencies