Aide’s Cayman investments add to Hollande's woes
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The revelation that a close aide to French President François Hollande has two companies registered at the Cayman Islands’ tax haven has added to pressure on the French government amid a deepening tax fraud scandal.
The revelation Thursday that a close aide and personal friend had set up companies in the Cayman Islands could not have come at a worse time for French President François Hollande.
Two days after former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac was forced to admit he had lied about having a secret Swiss bank account, Le Monde revealed that the treasurer for Hollande’s 2012 election campaign had joint ownership of two companies registered in the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven.
Businessman Jean-Jacques Augier, 59, told the newspaper that the firms did indeed exist and that they had been set up to form partnerships with foreign entrepreneurs.
"There is nothing illegal,” he told Le Monde, which published the revelation in the wake of a probe into tax havens with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and other international media. "It’s all down to my adventurous nature - maybe I lacked a bit of caution," Augier added.
Hollande ‘knew nothing’
Speaking from the Moroccan capital of Rabat on Thursday, Hollande denied he had any knowledge of Augier’s offshore investments.
“I know nothing of these private activities,” Hollande told reporters on the second day of his state visit to the north African country, adding that his own campaign accounts “have been found to be perfectly in keeping with the law”.
Augier had earlier rushed to Hollande’s defence, telling AFP that the French president “had nothing to do with these investments whatsoever, (…) nor did he have any knowledge of them.”
He also denounced an “unfounded maelstrom” that was directed at “undermining France’s head of state”.
‘Reshuffle … the only solution’
The escalating tax fraud scandal involving his former budget minister has put Hollande, who campaigned promising a squeaky clean government free of the murky scandals that plagued his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, under unprecedented pressure.
Opposition politicians have called for a parliamentary inquiry into the Cahuzac scandal, while an opinion poll had two-thirds of respondents saying the government had mishandled the situation.
The head of the main opposition right-wing UMP party, Jean-Francois Copé, on Thursday said the government had lost all credibility..
"The only solution possible, the only one, is a major government reshuffle, including the prime minister," he said.
Hollande appeared on national television Wednesday, vowing a to push through a new law - within weeks - on the "publication and control" of ministers’ and parliamentarians’ wealth and income.
Hollande insisted that he had no knowledge of Cahuzac’s foreign bank accounts, thought to total 600,000 euros that should have been declared to the French tax authorities, and that the former budget minister "did not benefit from any protection" from the government.