French ex-minister admits lying about Swiss account
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France’s former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who until two weeks ago was responsible for cracking down on tax evasion, admitted to having hidden funds in a secret Swiss bank on Tuesday. Judges have now placed Cahuzac under formal investigation.
France's former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac admitted on Tuesday that he had held a secret bank account abroad – a fact that he has strenuously denied until now.
His admission comes two weeks after he resigned from the Socialist government over allegations that he had siphoned funds into a UBS bank account in Switzerland in order to avoid paying taxes in France.
The allegations were published by French investigative website Mediapart in December 2012, prompting prosecutors to open an inquiry.
On Tuesday he was forced to admit to investigating magistrates that he had lied and was placed under formal investigation for tax fraud.
'Devastated by remorse'
On his blog, Cahuzac said he was “devastated by remorse” and begged forgiveness from French President François Hollande.
“I ask the President, the Prime Minister, my former colleagues in government, to forgive me for the damage I have caused them,” he wrote, adding that he had some 600,000 euros in a foreign bank account that he had held in his name for around 20 years.
Later on Tuesday, the Elysée presidential palace released a statement condemning the former minister with “the greatest severity”.
“In denying the existence of this bank account to the highest authorities in France and to the National Assembly, Cahuzac has committed an unforgivable moral error,” the statement read. “Politicians are bound by two imperatives – to set a good example and to tell the truth.”
French Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also issued a statement, expressing his “sadness and astonishment” at Cahuzac’s admission.
“Any senior politician is expected, more than any other citizen, to respect the law,” he said. “Lies are unacceptable in a democracy.”
Underlining the damage that the scandal had done to the government and the French political system generally, Olivier Dartigolles, spokesman for the French Communist Party, called Tuesday’s news a “political bomb”.
“During weeks of this soap opera, Cahuzac’s lies have multiplied and multiplied,” he said. “Both the press and the justice system must be praised in the highest terms for bringing this state scandal to light.”
“He defrauded the tax authorities and then he lied about it while he was minister responsible for fighting tax fraud,” Dartigolles added. “Cahuzac has made an awful contribution to a long list of disgraces that have sullied the politics of the French Republic.”
Meanwhile, Christian Jacob, head of the National Assembly parliamentary group for the opposition UMP, said his party condemned an act of “unquantifiable severity” and hinted that serious questions would have to be asked of Hollande and Ayrault.
“I find it hard to believe that the neither the president nor the prime minister were not aware of the situation beforehand,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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