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French prosecutor opens investigation into embattled minister Ferrand

Charly Triballeau, AFP | Richard Ferrand on visit to Deaville, Normandy, on May 29, 2017.

A French prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into the "past activities" of France's minister of territorial integration, Richard Ferrand, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron.

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Eric Mathais, the public prosecutor from the Breton city of Brest, said Thursday that the decision to open a probe was motivated by new media reports about Ferrand's business and financial dealings.

The issue is particularly salient given that France's newly elected president took office amid promises that politics-as-usual would be a thing of the past and his government would be squeaky clean.

Macron stands by embattled ally Ferrand
Macron stands by embattled ally Ferrand

But just weeks into Macron's nascent presidency, Ferrand has come under growing pressure for business practices that carry undertones of potential conflicts of interest.

Weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné reported last week that an insurance company struck a rental deal with a company owned by Ferrand's partner when he led the firm.

A report published in Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday said the insurance company had contracts with both Ferrand's ex-wife and his current companion.

The newspaper also reported that Ferrand advocated for a bill advantageous to insurance companies in 2012, when he was a lawmaker.

Ferrand has denied any wrongdoing, and both Macron and his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, have expressed their support.

When asked if Ferrand would be permitted to keep his government position, Philippe told TF1 TV channel on Tuesday: “I am saying yes, after having perfectly understood, being perfectly conscious of the exasperation of the French, of their emotion, of their annoyance.”

The controversy comes as a law to prohibit politicians from hiring family members, an issue that dogged conservative presidential candidate François Fillon, is to be formally presented to parliament next week.

A former Socialist, Ferrand was among the first to rally behind Macron, becoming his right-hand man during the campaign for the presidency.

Macron is now hoping a two-round legislative election on June 11-18 will hand him a majority in parliament and consolidate his grip on power.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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