Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Hollande pledges to clear out fraud

French president Francois Hollande has been caught out by a fraud scandal (AP)
France's Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac has admitted tax evasion (AP)

French president Francois Hollande has promised to ban convicted fraudsters from public office after the revelation that his chief tax collector had been hiding money in Switzerland for decades.

Mr Hollande shook his fist in a seeming bid to appear forceful during a pre-recorded declaration broadcast on French TV. He called the admission of lying and tax-dodging by ex-Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac a "serious breach of ... morals" and pledged a series of reforms including the ban on anyone convicted of tax fraud or corruption holding any public office.

Mr Hollande, who is among the least popular presidents in French history after less than one year in office, also pledged to improve judicial independence and to publish the personal financial resources of all ministers and members of parliament.

The lies from Cahuzac came both in front of the National Assembly and to Mr Hollande direct. Worst of all for Mr Hollande was that he billed his presidency as a return to morality and simplicity after what his Socialist Party dubbed the "bling-bling" years of his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. Now Mr Hollande has handed the opposition UMP party the club it needs to bash him and his Socialist government for the rest of his presidency.

The UMP have already been mercilessly haranguing their opponents for economic mismanagement after the government admitted it would not be able to trim the deficit as far as it had pledged to its European partners. Cutting that deficit by cracking down on tax-dodgers was part of Cahuzac's job as Mr Hollande's budget minister.

That makes his surprise admission of a once-secret Swiss bank account - after months of denying its existence - embarrassing not only for him but for Mr Hollande's entire cabinet. Many government ministers had taken to the airwaves to swear to Cahuzac's probity and trustworthiness after the website Mediapart first reported his secret in December.

French voters have grown used to seeing ministers and other top public officials nabbed in various corruption probes.

The executive editor of Mediapart, said Cahuzac's admissions will set off "an earthquake" in France's democracy. Edwy Plenel said what makes the Cahuzac scandal so threatening to the country's democratic traditions "is the attitude of the whole political class," which he said had rallied behind Cahuzac.

Mr Plenel and others fear this latest scandal will benefit extremist parties such as Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front or the far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party.

Cahuzac, a former plastic surgeon-turned-politician, is facing charges for alleged money laundering. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

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