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France launches public inquiry into tax fraud scandal

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-21

France’s parliament on Tuesday opened a public inquiry into a tax fraud scandal involving ex-budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, which shook the country’s confidence in its government and called President François Hollande’s leadership into question.

France’s parliament on Tuesday launched a high-profile public inquiry into a major tax fraud scandal which has shaken confidence in the country’s Socialist government and called President François Hollande’s leadership into question.

The special parliamentary commission is expected to examine the government’s role in the scandal, in which former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac repeatedly lied about owning an undeclared Swiss bank account.

Some of the country’s most influential and powerful politicians will be interviewed as part of the investigation, including Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Cahuzac will also be questioned over the incident.

The inquiry got off to a turbulent start on Tuesday after journalists for the French investigative website Mediapart – which broke news of the scandal in December, 2012 – alleged that police had interfered with the case.

Journalist Fabrice Arfi, who reported the scandal, testified that Cahuzac's chief-of-staff Marie-Helene Valente had somehow become aware of a phone conversation between his boss at Mediapart, Edwy Plenel, and a source for the story.

Arfi said Valente had written an email to a third party on December 11, 2012, in which she mentioned the phone chat.

"The police were used to listen in on telephone conversations between Edwy Plenel and one of the protagonists in the case," Arfi told members of parliament, without saying who the email was sent to or how he obtained it.

"We don't know if the interior minister himself is aware of these investigations," he said.

Plenel, who was also questioned at the commission, denounced "the use of police to harm source confidentiality."

Mediapart revealed on December 4, 2012, that Cahuzac had funds in an undeclared Swiss bank account. But the minister, who fought against tax evasion during his tenure in charge of the budget, consistently denied the allegations.

He finally admitted to having the account containing some 600,000 euros ($770,000) in April after an official probe into the case was opened.

By then, he had already given up his ministerial position, and he subsequently resigned from parliament as well. He was also kicked out of the Socialist Party.

The scandal shook France's Socialist government and damaged the squeaky-clean image that President Francois Hollande had sought to project, less than a year after he was voted into office.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-21

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