Sarkozy's son rejects nepotism charges over prestigious role

The expected choice of Jean Sarkozy (pictured), the 23-year-old son of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to oversee the development of France's main business district has drawn cries of nepotism.


AFP - President Nicolas Sarkozy's 23-year-old son accused critics of hounding him because of his name Tuesday in a nepotism row sparked by his imminent appointment to manage France's top business district.

News that law student Jean Sarkozy is in line to be named chairman of the agency overseeing development in La Defense, the latest boost in a meteoric career, has drawn howls of protest and derision in France and abroad.

By Tuesday more than 40,000 people had signed an online petition calling on the president's son, known for his blonde good looks and mockingly dubbed "Prince Jean" by the left-wing press, to pull out of the running.

But the president's political allies deployed their heavy artillery in Jean Sarkozy's support Tuesday, vaunting his "maturity" and his "right" to pursue a career of his own.

"Being the president's son does not confer any extra rights, but it does not give you any fewer either," government spokesman Luc Chatel insisted.

Sarkozy junior was just as defiant.

"Should I be illegitimate in any election just because my name is Sarkozy?" he demanded, in an interview with the daily Metro.

He insisted his name "makes things harder, as is evident from the violent personal attacks I have faced from the outset."

"I don't ask for any more rights than anyone else, but I don't ask for fewer either."

The second year law student was elected in 2008 as a councillor in Neuilly, the rich Paris suburb that catapulted his father to prominence 30 years ago and leads the right-wing majority in the Hauts-de-Seine regional council.

Sarkozy attributed his meteoric rise to his "passion" for the job, insisting: "I was never nominated, always elected."

"When you have a passion, be it artistic, professional or political, you live it to the full," said the president's son, whose wife Jessica Sebaoun, heiress to the electronics giant Darty, is pregnant with their first baby.

Jean Sarkozy's appointment, which is all but certain to be approved by the EPAD agency's board in December, would see him replace the minister for economic recovery, Patrick Devedjian, retiring at 66.

According to Le Figaro, Prime Minister Francois Fillon recently approved a legal change that would have allowed Devedjian to stay on in the high-profile post past 65.

But the president's office Elysee blocked his renewal, judging EPAD would be "a good launchpad" for the young Sarkozy, the daily said.

Government spokesman Chatel led the charge Tuesday against the accusation of nepotism, joined by Sarkozy's special advisor Henri Guaino and the ruling UMP party spokesman.

"This feels like yet another manhunt," Chatel told LCI television, referring to a scandal that threatened to engulf Sarkozy's culture minister last week over a 2005 book describing his past as a sex tourist in Asia.

President Sarkozy's onetime mentor, former minister Charles Pasqua, said the French leader's son was "a brilliant boy, with a maturity well beyond his years."

Fillon predicted the controversy would fizzle out, while pointing out that day-to-day executive powers at EPAD lay with the director general, not the president of the board.

Opposition politicians accuse the "Sarkozy clan" of tightening its grip on the "treasure chest" of La Defense, a complex of skyscrapers west of Paris where 2,500 firms including many of France's top firms are based.

"Who can believe for a second that the appointment of a boy in his second year at law school to head a body entrusted with managing the billions of euros of La Defense owes all to his merit and nothing to his name?" asked the left-wing Liberation.

A Twitter feed on the Internet has drawn hundreds of sarcastic comments suggesting, for instance, that Jean Sarkozy was now ripe to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general.

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