France

Hollande government reeling after ex-minister's Swiss account confession

Reuters/Charles Platiau

France’s Socialist government is desperately trying to recover from the shock of former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac confession that he salted money away in a foreign bank account. Cahuzac was charged with tax fraud on Tuesday.

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President François Hollande was to make a televised statement on the scandal before midday Wednesday.

Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault “obviously knew nothing” of Cahuzac’s account, government spokesperson Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said on Wednesday.

Dossier: The Cahuzac affair

“That’s what it’s about, basically,” she told Europe 1 radio. “It’s one man who has lied, it’s not an institution, it’s not an institution, it’s not a party, it’s not a government.”

Earlier Ayrault denied all knowledge of Cahuzac’s secret account and Hollande called Cahuzac’s conduct an “unpardonable moral fault”.

Even Cahuzac’s lawyer Gilles August resigned when his client admitted he had been lying about a Swiss back account that the Médiapart website accused him of having held.

The opposition went on the offensive as soon as Cahuzac had confessed.

  • Jean-Francois Copé, the head of the main right-wing party, the UMP, said Hollande had either showed "naivety" or he had "lied”. “Who can believe that François Hollande and Jean-Marc Ayrault didn’t known anything about it?" Copé asked on Europe 1 radio.
  • Michel Gonelle, the UMP member and lawyer, who gave the story to Médiapart insisted that he told François Hollande about the account in December.
  • On the hard left, Left Front leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, also demanded, “Who knew but said noting?”
  • And Louis Alliot of the far-right Front National declared, “It’s the system that is rotten.”

Cahuzac resigned his portfolio two weeks ago, at the start of the judicial investigation into the allegations.

He repeatedly denied having had the foreign account in the press, to his colleagues and to the National Assembly

But on Tuesday he confessed to prosecutors and now faces charges for tax evasion, the same crime he was charged with cracking down on as Hollande’s budget minister.

In a blog post yesterday, Cahuzac admitted to having had a foreign bank account for the last 20 years. At his indictment, his new lawyer, Jean Veil, said the contents of the Swiss bank account were transferred to Singapore in 2009.

Cahuzac said it contained about 600,000 euros, which Veil said are the proceeds of his work as a plastic surgeon.

Legally, as Cahuzac is no longer a minister, he can take back his job as an MP by the end of the month but Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir has said that Cahuzac was morally disqualified from continuing to serve in parliament and declared that he had expelled himself from the party.

Hollande came to power promising clean government and an "irreproachable" political leadership for the country.

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