PARIS (Reuters) - Former president Nicolas Sarkozy appealed to France's highest court on Monday to stop a criminal inquiry into accusations that he duped a billionaire heiress into donating campaign funds, a case that threatens his political future.

Sarkozy's lawyer asked the Court of Cassation to overturn an appeals court ruling this month upholding the investigation into allegations that he took advantage of the mental frailty of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman, to obtain money for his 2007 presidential campaign.

Sarkozy denies the accusations. Most of the 11 other defendants in the case also lodged appeals.

If Sarkozy, 58, the conservative voters' favorite, were sent for trial over the long-running case, it could dash his chances of entering the 2017 presidential race against Socialist incumbent Francois Hollande, who defeated him last year.

Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation in March for "abuse of weakness" of Bettencourt, who was 84 at the time of the alleged offence, after she was declared to be in a state of dementia.

Under French law, a formal investigation means there is "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to likely implication of a suspect in a crime. It often but not always leads to trial.

(Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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