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Explainer: France

Pressure on Hollande's top man to resign amid allegations of anti-Sarkozy plot

Jean-Pierre Jouyet
Jean-Pierre Jouyet Wikipedia/International Monetary Fund

Opposition politicians called on Monday for the resignation of Jean-Pierre Jouyet, President François Hollande’s chief of staff, who is at the centre of a political storm concerning former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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A new book, Sarkozy s’est tuer, includes allegations that one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rivals within his own political grouping, the UMP, tried to thwart the former president’s return to front line politics and asked Jouyet to collaborate by manipulating the justice system.

Two journalists from Le Monde allege in their book that UMP parliamentarian François Fillon, who served as Nicolas Sarkozy’s Prime Minister but is now a political rival, asked Jouyet to try to accelerate judicial proceedings against Sarkozy in a bid to stop him from resuming his political career.

Both Fillon and Jouyet have been damaged by the storm created by the book.

Fillon denies the allegations. Jouyet also initially denied them flatly but then on Sunday changed his version of events, confirming in a statement that Fillon had raised concerns about Sarkozy’s campaign expenses with him.

It is well-known that Fillon is furious that a fine imposed on Sarkozy for overspending on his failed 2012 re election campaign, was paid by the UMP and not Sarkozy himself.

The two journalists say they have a recording of the conversation. They write that Jouyet says that Fillon told him “Hit him quickly, hit him quickly Jean-Pierre, you know full well that if you don’t hit him quickly, you will let him come back [to politics], so get moving!”

The newspaper le Journal du Dimanche reported on Sunday that a finance ministry official sent a letter in November 2013 declaring that there was no legal reason why Sarkozy’s fine should not be paid by the UMP instead of Sarkozy himself.

However on 2 July, Sarkozy was placed under investigation for abuse of confidence over the matter, following representations by auditors commissioned by the new UMP leadership including François Fillon.

The affair has been gaining momentum since it first erupted on Wednesday and until Sunday the Elysées palace had made no comment.

On Sunday the Elysées issued a statement declaring that “since 2012 [when François Hollande won the presidency] there has been no intervention in any judicial procedure”.

Jouyet maintains that Fillon asked him to speed up judicial procedures against Sarkozy but that François Hollande made clear that he would in no way be involved in manipulating the justice system.

Fillon says he is sueing the two journalists as well as Le Monde newspaper for defamation.

Election turnout and polls show the French people are already losing patience with their politicians and this will do nothing to help ....

The whole storm has only added weight to the idea that French politics these days is mired in intrigue and corruption.

Jouyet’s admission of a conversation which he initially denied has left an impression of skulduggery. Fillon denies any wrongdoing but for the second time in two years is at the heart of a major affair arising from presidential ambitions. François Hollande, though not directly implicated, could be tainted by his close friendship with Jouyet.

Sarkozy is currently criss-crossing the country in his campaign to win the leadership of the UMP, ahead of another probable bid in 2017 for the French presidency.

The latest scandal could lend credence to his claim that the many legal proceedings he faces are politically motivated.

One person who could benefit from the whole business is the UMP’s founder, Alain Juppé, who also hopes to be the UMP candidate for the 2017 presidential elections. He will not be disappointed to see his rival Fillon inevitably damaged by the affair.

But perhaps the biggest winner is Marine Le Pen and her Front National party. She regularly asserts that there is no difference between the UMP party and the Socialists, that they work together and are not interested in the concerns of the French people.
 

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