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FRANCE - POLITICS

French centrist leader Francois Bayrou charged over public funds misuse, but says he'll stay put

Former leader of the Modem party François Bayrou inculpé ce vendredi 6 décembre pour «complicité de détournement  de fonds publics ».
Former leader of the Modem party François Bayrou inculpé ce vendredi 6 décembre pour «complicité de détournement de fonds publics ». AFP Photos/Eric Feferberg

French veteran centrist leader Francois Bayrou has been charged with "complicity in siphoning off public money" in a case related to the embezzlement of European Parliament funds, according to a judicial source on Friday.

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The move followed a broader investigation into allegations that MEPs from Bayrou's MoDem party used cash intended to compensate parliamentary assistants to pay the salaries of people who were doing work for the political party.

"This indictment, announced in advance to the media, is unfounded," Bayrou's lawyer Pierre Cornut-Gentille told AFP.

"The follow-up will show it is totally unfounded."

Bayrou, who is currently the Mayor of Pau told the press last month that he would not resign despite the investigation.

Support from President Emmanuel Macron

President Emmanuel Macron's staff on Saturday reiterated that "on a personal level, the President has an amicable relationship with Francois Bayrou, who he exchanges with regularly and will continue to do so." 

In fact, Bayrou has been invited to a special dinner for the ruling LREM party, hosted by the President on Monday evening.

Macron is also due in Pau on 16 and 17 December, for a summit with African leaders involved in the Barkhane operation in the Sahel, as well as an inauguration of Febus, a fleet of hydrogen-run buses.

Elsewhere, the president of the MoDem party at the National Assembly, Patrick Mignola told France Info public news service on Saturday that there was no reason to imagine Bayrou stepping down from his leadership of MoDem, or as mayor of Pau.

"I hope he'll be reelected mayor of Pau, but that is up to the voters to decide. In any case, he can be proud of the work he's done there," he said.

Other MoDem members investigated in the scandal

Several figures from MoDem, which allied itself with Macron's party, have already been indicted or are being investigated in the scandal.

They include former justice minister Michel Mercier and the financial director for MoDem, Alexandre Nardella.

Magistrates are investigating whether they received European Parliament funds for assistants who were in fact carrying out other tasks for the centrist party.

Sylvie Goulard, an MEP from 2009 to 2017 who now serves as a deputy governor of the French central bank, has already agreed to pay back 45,000 euros to the parliament.

This corresponds to eight months of salary of one of her assistants, for whom she had provided no proof of work.

Bayrou provided major support for Macron

Marielle De Sarnez, MoDem's vice-president, was also charged on Wednesday over the "siphoning of public funds" through a former assistant's contract.

The opening of the investigation in 2017 prompted the resignation of Bayrou as justice minister, De Sarnez as Europe minister and Goulard as defence minister after just one month in the job.

But Macron still went ahead and supported Goulard as France's pick for the new EU commission, and expressed anger when European Parliament lawmakers voted overwhelmingly against her in October.

Bayrou was a key backer of Macron's one-year-old Republic on the Move (REM) movement during the presidential campaign, and his support was crucial in winning centrist votes for the new president.

Several French politicians have become embroiled in fake jobs scandals, notably former prime minister Francois Fillon, who will go on trial on February 24 on accusations of creating a fictitious job for his wife.

(with AFP)
  

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