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France

Did ex-budget minister’s wife precipitate his downfall?

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2013-04-05

It has emerged that the estranged wife of France’s disgraced ex-budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac could have inadvertently and indirectly played a role in the discovery of his secret foreign bank account and his ultimate indictment for tax evasion.

On Tuesday, former French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac admitted that he had concealed part of his income in a Swiss bank account for more than two decades. After four months of strenuously denying the account’s existence, he confessed that he had transferred €600,000 from the Swiss account to one in Singapore.

It looks as though the tax evasion allegations could flow from his wife and former medical partner, Patricia Cahuzac. The couple married in 1980 and had three children before beginning acrimonious divorce proceedings in December 2012.

Since 1996, the pair ran a lucrative medical practice just off the Champs Elysées. Cahuzac, a cardiologist-turned-cosmetic surgeon, and his wife, a dermatologist, offered micro hair-transplant surgery to French politicians, athletes and celebrities.

Cahuzac and his wife purchased a 200-square metre apartment in one of Paris’s elite seventh arrondissement in 1994, which—according to French media, is complicating the divorce. After setting up a business in the pharmaceutical industry, he transitioned into French politics in 1997.

In November 2011 Patricia Cahuzac allegedly hired private detectives to investigate her husband’s finances, according to reports from Paris Match and French weekly Journal du Dimanche. But in an interview with French daily Sud Ouest, she denied meddling in her husband’s affairs.

Nevertheless, several French media sources report that Madame Cahuzac told her private detective about a Swiss bank account owned by her husband, but claimed she did not know the account number.

French investigative website Mediapart first uncovered Cahuzac’s clandestine finances in December and later posted a muffled recording of a phone message in which a politician – allegedly Cahuzac –mentions an undeclared UBS account in Switzerland.

That fateful conversation was recorded at the end of 2000 just before Cahuzac ran successfully for the mayor’s post in the southwestern city of Villeneuve-sur-Lot.

Pandora's Box

While it remains to be seen who is responsible for leaking the recording to Mediapart, there’s no question this could have fatal consequences for French President François Hollande, who was elected on the promise of delivering tax reform. Still, if Patricia Cahuzac did indeed put private detectives on the trail of her husband's overseas account, she may have opened Pandora's box, unintentionally or not—and contributed to her husband’s ultimate downfall.

Madame Cahuzac has never denied the bank account’s existence. When asked about her husband’s Swiss account, she replied, "Ask him." According to Le Monde, Patricia Cahuzac is none other than the cousin of the wife of Jean-Pierre Eymié. Eymié was a lawyer associated with Philippe Péninque—the very lawyer who admitted Wednesday to having opened Jérôme Cahuzac’s Swiss bank account in 1992. Both men were members of an extreme-right student organisation and “close friends” with the Socialist politician. Could Patricia Cahuzac have ignored this information?

The ex-budget minister himself seems to think that his wife played no role in the affair that has shaken up the government. "Patricia hasn’t been very sweet during our divorce proceedings, but she has always been loyal and fair," Cahuzac’s lawyer told Paris Match.

A friend of the couple told the Nouvel Observateur on March 22: "Jérôme refuses to imagine that the mother of his three children could be involved in this."

Date created : 2013-04-05

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