French press indignant over ex-budget chief's lies
A day after France’s former budget minister and tax tsar Jérôme Cahuzac admitted to having a secret offshore bank account, French dailies on Wednesday were reeling from a moral affront that has upset the political left as much as the right.
France woke up Wednesday to the image of the country’s former budget minister and tax tsar Jérôme Cahuzac looking haggard and defeated on the front pages of the leading dailies following his admission that he had repeatedly lied about a secret Swiss bank account.
“Indigne” (Unworthy), screamed the banner headline of the left-wing Libération, with a sub-head: “After months of lies, Jérôme Cahuzac admitted yesterday to keeping a foreign bank account and is being formally investigated. The making of a political crisis.”
In a shocking public confession on Tuesday, Cahuzac admitted that he hid 600,000 euros in a UBS account in Switzerland for more than two decades. The admission by the 60-year-old former MP, cardiologist and plastic surgeon followed months of him denying tax-evasion reports, which emerged late last year on the French investigative site, Mediapart.
In a country where even the most cherished celebrities - such as Gerard Depardieu - are lambasted for trying to evade a 75 percent “supertax” on the rich, Cahuzac’s admission has jolted the nation and plunged French President François Hollande’s government into crisis.
“It’s a shame,” said the Libération op-ed. “With his cover-ups and lies, Jérôme Cahuzac did more than just tarnish his reputation. He has cast opprobrium on his actions, discredited the political discourse and raised doubts about the authority of the head of state”.
What happened to ‘la Republique Exemplaire?’
When he ran against Nicholas Sarkozy last year, Hollande promised a “Republique Exemplaire” (an exemplary republic) and a very different style of government from the “bling” and vulgar consumerism of Sarkozy-era politicians who were viewed as too close to France’s fat cats.
If France’s deeply disappointed left led the chorus of censure against one of their own on Wednesday, the right-wing press was singing in-tune – but the melody was snarkier.
“A minister of the republic lied. He is a Socialist. And he lied about money. Can you imagine anything worse?” asked columnist Paul-Henri du Limbert in right-wing Le Figaro, before noting, “At a time when France is sinking daily into a deeper crisis, nothing is worse than the atmosphere of suspicion that the Cahuzac case will inevitably cause."
France’s economic situation is alarming. With unemployment hovering about 10 percent, credit rating downgrades, and a moribund manufacturing sector, Hollande’s biggest challenge is a budget deficit that has stood stubbornly above the 3 percent EU limit.
‘Only Lance Armstrong comes close’
But more than the economic and political fallout from the latest scandal, the Cahuzac affair has been viewed as a moral affront across the ideological divide. “In the realm of big lies before the microphones and cameras, only Lance Armstrong comes close to Jérôme Cahuzac,” said La Voix du Nord, referring to the US cyclist whose serial denials of doping allegations gripped this Tour de France-mad nation for years.
In a scathing op-ed in La Charente Libre, columnist Dominique Garraud noted, "For months... the former budget minister multiplied his lies with a consistency that was matched only by his arrogance against his accusers.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Jacques Camus in La Montagne, who says Cahuzac has "strayed into a spiral of lies, bolstered by a false sense of impunity”.
Months after it broke the story that Cahuzac had siphoned funds into a Swiss account, the investigative website Mediapart had already moved on, questioning just how much Hollande knew about his then-budget minister’s unholy tax-evasion measures. With the scandal poised to take on a new twist, the Cahuzac story is not about to die soon in France.