Sarkozy says son 'thrown to the wolves' in nepotism row

President Nicolas Sarkozy said his son had been "thrown to the wolves" as a row escalated over the 23-year-old's imminent appointment France's La Defense business district.


Reuters - Opposition leaders have accused Sarkozy of nepotism and say his 23-year-old son, Jean, is not experienced enough to manage La Defense a cluster of skyscrapers on the edge of Paris which aims to rival London as Europe’s main financial centre.

President Sarkozy, who used to run the same EPAD agency himself until just before his election as president in 2007, told reporters the attacks on Jean were unjustified.

“It is never right when someone is thrown to the wolves without any reason and in an excessive fashion,” he said shortly after giving a speech where he had praised France for being a country where ability rather than privilege secured success.

“What counts in France is not to born to a wealthy family, but to have worked hard and to have proved your worth through your studies and your labour,” he said.

Jean Sarkozy, the president’s second son from his first marriage, also dismissed the controversy, insisting he was working his way up the political ladder in an honest fashion.

“Whatever I say, whatever I do, I will be criticised,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Le Parisien daily. In an interview with France 3 television the same day, he said attacks and criticism were “part of the political game.”

“I don’t want to complain, I want to act,” he said. “It’s by my acts that I’m asking to be judged and I will show what I’m going to do if people put their trust in me.”

The younger Sarkozy, who has many of his father’s mannerisms but is taller and blond, was elected as a councillor in the Hauts-de-Seine region last year and almost immediately became head of the ruling right-wing majority in the rich Paris suburb.

Such a swift rise for a man only in his second year of a law degree raised eyebrows in France, but his move on the levers of power in La Defense, which is planning a one-billion-euro ($1.5 billion) renovation, was a step too far for many.

Monarchist tendencies?

“At the heart of the matter is a downwards spiral towards monarchism,” said Jean-Paul Huchon, a senior Socialist and president of the Ile-de-France region which embraces Paris.

“Everything is accepted without shame or restraint,” he told France 2 television on Tuesday.

Local councillors will vote on who should head EPAD in December and as yet there are no other candidates, but intense pressure is building on the Sarkozys to retreat, with one online petition raising 55,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon demanding that Jean Sarkozy withdraw his candidature.

“Not everything is permitted when you are the head of a democratic nation. It is not written in any manual, but there are certain things you don’t do and don’t allow,” the influential Le Monde daily said in a front page editorial.

The controversy comes hard on the heels of a row over Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, who had to face down calls for his resignation last week in a furore over his admission that he paid for male prostitutes during visits to Thailand.

The brouhaha has raised questions over whether the usually assured president might be losing his touch and ministers were dispatched to the airwaves to counter the opposition assault.

“I am extremely shocked by what has happened,” Education Minister Luc Chatel told LCI television. “I think we are facing another witch hunt.”

Jean Sarkozy’s allies in local government also leapt to his defence, assuring a sceptical public that he was up to the task.

“Jean is the son of a political genius so it’s not surprising that he is precocious,” said Thierry Solere, vice-president of the Hauts-de-Seine council.

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