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French budget minister resigns as Swiss bank account claims investigated

Reuters/Charles Platiau

French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac resigned late Tuesday as prosecutors opened an investigation into his alleged secret Swiss bank account. Geneva prosecutors on Wednesday said their French counterparts had asked for their help in the tax evasion inquiry.

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The Geneva authorities confirmed Wednesday morning that the French public prosecutor had requested their cooperation, as President François Hollande’s government reeled from the effect of its first major scandal.

Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has been appointed to replace Cahuzac, who had identified fighting tax evasion as one of his main tasks.

The investigation was launched after police laboratory tests indicated that Cahuzac was probably the unidentified speaker discussing an account with the Swiss-based bank UBS in a recording made public by French website Mediapart.

Three witnesses are said to have identified the voice as Cahuzac’s.

The recording dates from 2000 and Mediapart claims that the account was closed in 2010 and the money transferred to an account in Singapore.

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Cahuzac, a former plastic surgeon known as the Socialist Party’s toughest budget-watcher, has denied the claims.

French prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into the affair in January.
But the latest results take the inquiry further.

It will probably involve cooperation with other judiciaries including Switzerland.
Cahuzac’s resignation is a major embarrassment for French President François Hollande, tarnishing the image he cultivates of being an unpretentious and honest leader, and comes at a time when the government is struggling to meet its deficit target because of a weak growth.

Accepting the resignation, the French presidency hailed Cahuzac’s “talent and competence” and his decision to quit his post “to defend his honour”.

His Socialist colleagues stressed that he has not yet been charged, while right-wing UMP leader Jean-François Copé declared that the minister’s position was “no longer tenable” but came “at the worst possible moment” as a budget is being prepared.
 

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