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French minister under fire over lobster and champagne dinners

Le ministre de la Transition écologique et solidaire, François de Rugy, le 9 juillet 2019 à Paris.
Le ministre de la Transition écologique et solidaire, François de Rugy, le 9 juillet 2019 à Paris. POOL/AFP
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Paris (AFP)

A prominent French cabinet minister was under pressure on Wednesday after a report claimed he had hosted luxury dinners while parliament speaker with allegedly little connection to his position.

The left-wing Mediapart website said Environment Minister Francois de Rugy had hosted a dozen such dinners from 2017-2018 at the French parliament speaker's official residence.

De Rugy did not deny hosting the dinners, but vigorously rejected the claim they had been purely social events not linked to his job at the National Assembly.

"These were not dinners between friends. These were informal working dinners with people who have relations with a political authority," de Rugy told reporters, slamming the article for being "misleading" and "tendentious".

Mediapart alleged that the events were essentially organised by his journalist wife Severine de Rugy for their circle and included luxuries such as champagne, vintage wines costing up to 500 euros ($560) a bottle, and giant lobsters.

The left-wing website, which has earned a reputation for stories that irk the establishment, published images of de Rugy posing at a candlelit table and his wife with a 500-euro, 2004 Mouton-Rothschild bottle of wine.

The revelations come as the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron looks to recover from six months of anti-government protests sparked by economic inequality and claims that French leaders are out-of-touch with ordinary people.

De Rugy, who is from an aristocratic background, is a former environmental activist who joined Macron's party during his successful bid for the presidency in 2017.

Mediapart said the dinners for between 10 and 30 guests were at the expense of the state, while de Rugy's office insisted that they were linked to his work in representing the lower house of parliament.

He also received backing from government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye who said Rugy retained the support of Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

She said that it was clear his work as parliament speaker required sometimes "extremely diverse" forms of contact with different civil society members.

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