French politicians rush to reveal their assets


In the wake of a tax-dodging scandal at the heart of the government, and ahead of probably stiff new disclosure standards, French politicians are rushing to make their properties and assets known to the public.


French politicians of all political stripes began disclosing their assets publicly this week in the wake of a tax-evasion scandal that has rocked the government of President François Hollande and reinforced widely held perceptions in France that leaders are corrupt.

In a primetime television interview on Monday, former prime minister François Fillon (picture main), a leading member of the conservative opposition UMP party, revealed his personal wealth on the air, but expressed disdain for such an initiative.

“Even if I don’t like this voyeurism, I will publish my assets disclosure document, which I have already done for many years at the beginning and at the end of my term in the National Assembly,” Fillon, who is also an MP representing Paris, told France 2 TV.

Fillon also criticised President Hollande for championing a so-called moralisation of politics bill, the details of which his Socialist government said it would reveal on April 24 and vote on during the summer.

The new bill is expected to bar those found guilty of corruption from running for office, but especially force elected leaders and public officials to further disclose their and their families’ assets and interests. It will likely carry stiffer sanctions, including prison time, for those who lie about assets or fail to disclose them fully.

French MPs must already reveal the state of their finances to a government body – not to the public – at the start and end of each mandate, and face fines of up to 30,000 euros for providing false information.

Last week, former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac admitted he lied to parliament and the press about a secret Swiss bank account where he hid away at least 600,000 euros from the French taxman.

As a prelude to Hollande’s new, stiffer disclosure measures the president has obliged his entire cabinet to lay their worldly possessions bare by April 15.

Show and tell

The deadline only concerns government ministers, but some among France’s ruling class have voluntarily begun revealing their worth. Fillon has been the most prominent example yet, but fellow conservatives, Socialists and Greens alike started revealing their properties and cars.

Marie-Arlette Carlotti, a junior minister in charge of disabled people, was the first cabinet member to make her assets known. On her blog on Monday morning, she listed a large apartment in the city of Marseille, a house in the southern department of Hérault and a second apartment in Corsica as her real estate holdings, among other assets.

Laurent Wauquiez, UMP vice-president and a former junior minister in charge of higher education and research, told the Journal de Dimanche weekly he owned two homes with his wife and drove two cars, but listed meagre savings.

Cecile Duflot, a member of the Green party and Hollande’s minister for housing, revealed on Monday she owned a home in the south western Landes department, savings accounts containing a combined 106,161 euros, two small cars, and jewellery in the value of 2,000 euros.

Fillon himself announced on television that he owned a 650,000 euro home in the western Sarthe department, two cars, both of which were older than 10 years, and savings of just under 100,000 euros.

‘An Inquisition culture’

The push to disclose assets to the public is supposed to counter the widespread – and growing – belief that the disgraced former budget minister Cahuzac is the norm among politicians, not the exception.

A survey by French polling firm OpinionWay in the wake of the Cahuzac affair showed that 77% of respondents believe that politicians are “rather corrupt”. A similar study in December 2010 showed that 64% of French thought their politicians were corrupt.

However, Green MP Noël Mamère said he doubted the current drive by public officials to uncover themselves would help reverse the trend.

“I think we are yielding to a kind of tyranny based on a fleeting emotion,” Mamère told France 24 by telephone. “We’re laying the groundwork for an Inquisition culture that will only fuel more suspicion.”

He said he would not join the race to disclose assets, adding that it was not a shortage of laws that was withering away the public’s trust - but politician's consistent failure to live up to those standards.

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