France reopens conflict of interest probe into Macron’s chief of staff Kohler

A file photo of French President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler in Paris on November 11, 2018.
A file photo of French President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler in Paris on November 11, 2018. © Ludovic Marin, AFP/Archives

Investigators have reopened a conflict of interest probe into President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff, Alexis Kohler, over his links to Swiss-Italian shipping giant MSC, sources told AFP on Wednesday.

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An initial criminal investigation by the economic crimes prosecutor's office was dropped in August last year, prompting campaign group Anticor to file a civil complaint.

On Monday, investigating magistrates agreed to take up the Anticor complaint, sources said, confirming a report by investigative website Mediapart.

As a senior civil servant in the economy ministry before Macron's election in 2017, Kohler is alleged to have worked on matters involving the shipyard STX France, where MSC was a major client.

MSC was founded by billionaire cousins of Kohler's mother and Kohler himself joined the company as finance director in 2016 while continuing to work as an adviser on Macron's presidential campaign.

Two years ago, police raided the economy ministry as part of their inquiry into Kohler, who was also Macron's chief of staff at the ministry between 2014 and 2016.

The presidency has denied his aide did anything wrong.

Macron confirmed last year that he had known of Kohler's family ties when appointing him in 2014, and added that Kohler was not involved in MSC-related decisions after coming aboard.

Late on Wednesday, the presidency described the reopening of the investigation as an "automatic consequence" of the Anticor complaint being filed, saying the judges would consider the case with "full independence".

Leftist opponents often accuse Macron, a former investment banker, of being too close to business leaders.

The allegations against Kohler add to a list of legal investigations into Macron's allies -- including Richard Ferrand, who stepped down as housing minister because of a probe into a property deal, but is now the speaker of parliament.

Kohler had also been questioned in a probe into a scandal involving Macron's former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, and a Senate commission of inquiry said it suspected Kohler had withheld information in that case.

(AFP)

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