Hollande under fire over ex-minister’s offshore lie

Hollande under fire over ex-minister’s offshore lie

Hollande under fire over ex-minister’s offshore lie

A photo taken on May 29, 2012 in Paris, shows former French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac posing in his office at the Finance Ministry in Paris. Cahuzac, who resigned on March 19, was being heard by investigating judges on April 2, 2013 as part of a probe into a Swiss bank account he allegedly used to hide assets from the tax authorities. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE

France’s ex-Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac was charged April 2 in a tax fraud probe after he admitted to having a foreign bank account, dealing a fresh blow to President François Hollande’s embattled government.

Critics were quick to pounce on the scandal, demanding to know if Hollande or other top officials were aware of the account held by the minister once responsible for cracking down on tax evasion. In a contrite statement on his website, Cahuzac, a former plastic surgeon-turned-politician, admitted to having had the foreign account for around 20 years and said he was “devastated by guilt.”

The ex-minister’s lawyer, Jean Veil, said Cahuzac had been charged with “laundering the proceeds of tax fraud” and would cooperate with investigators. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. Cahuzac said the account contained about 600,000 euros, had not been touched in about a dozen years and that he had ordered the funds transferred to his French account.

Begged forgiveness

Cahuzac begged forgiveness from Hollande, his former government colleagues, fellow lawmakers, French voters and his family and his friends.

When the scandal first broke, Cahuzac said solemnly in the National Assembly: “I never had a foreign account, not now, not before. I deny these accusations.” But in a blog posting, a far less combative Cahuzac wrote: “I was caught in a spiral of lie and I lost my way. I am devastated with remorse.”

“It was an unspeakable mistake to think that I could avoid confronting a past that I wanted to consider behind me. I will now face this reality with all transparency.”

Cahuzac announced his resignation March 19 after prosecutors opened a probe into the account, first revealed by the investigative Mediapart news website.

The site released an audio recording reportedly of Cahuzac admitting to having the account with Swiss bank UBS. Aides to Hollande said Cahuzac had lied to the president “face to face,” as well as to lawmakers in the National Assembly and on the sidelines of Cabinet meetings. “With sadness and dismay, I learn the truth. This truth is cruel: Jerome Cahuzac lied,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

Hollande, languishing in the opinion polls less than a year into his five-year term, said his former minister had committed an “unforgivable moral error” and that the courts would decide his fate. He vowed that a new law on the “publication and control” of ministers’ wealth would be presented and said Cahuzac “did not benefit from any protection” from top officials and that Cahuzac’s actions were an “insult to the Republic.”

Hollande had promised a government of unimpeachable morals and critics wasted no time in jumping on the scandal.

The opposition has asked for an explanation. “The president must assume his responsibilities in the face of this state lie and explain himself before the French people,” the head of the main opposition right-wing UMP party, Jean-François Cope, said.