From the Financial Times in England:
French ministers quit in expenses scandal
By Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Paris
Published: July 5 2010 15:29 | Last updated: July 5 2010 15:29
Two ministers in the French government have resigned over separate expenses scandals as Nicolas Sarkozy, president, struggled to regain credibility after accusations of a potential conflict of interest.
The sacrifice on Sunday of the two junior ministers – Alain Joyandet, state secretary for overseas development, and Christian Blanc, state secretary for the Greater Paris region – fuelled speculation that Mr Sarkozy was not prepared to part with Eric Woerth, his social affairs minister, over allegations of a conflict of interest involving the tax affairs of Liliane Bettencourt, France’s wealthiest woman.
President Sarkozy had criticised the behaviour of the two junior ministers and made clear they would not be re-appointed in a cabinet reshuffle planned for October.
Mr Blanc caused a public furore last month after his office disclosed it had spent €12,000 on cigars. He admitted having smoked one-third of the cigars and was ordered to pay the full bill.
Mr Joyandet spent €116,500 on a private jet to attend a conference in Martinique, when he could have taken a scheduled flight.
The revelations sparked fury about the waste of public funds at a time when the government is cutting back on public spending. The government has let it be known that in a further cost-cutting measure the two men will not be replaced.
The expenses scandals have erupted at the same time as revelations regarding the tax affairs of Ms Bettencourt, the 87-year-old heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune, which have embroiled Mr Woerth, former budget minister.
Illicit recordings of Ms Bettencourt’s private conversations with advisers triggered a political storm last month after suggestions that Ms Bettencourt’s tax affairs might have avoided public scrutiny because Mr Woerth’s wife worked as a financial adviser to the billionaire.
Mr Woerth, who is now spearheading controversial pension reform as social affairs minister, faces further allegations of a conflict of interest because he is also treasurer of President Sarkozy’s UMP party, to which Ms Bettencourt has made donations.
Mr Woerth denies any wrongdoing but the apparent conflict of interest has unleashed a political storn that shows no signs of ebbing and has proved highly embarrassing to Mr Sarkozy, whose popularity ratings hit a record low at the end of last month.
Mr Woerth has said the attacks against him are politically motivated in order to scupper the sensitive pension reform. “These accusations are scandalous and totally false. The accusations were hurled the very day I announced the pension reform. It’s clearly an attempt to destabilise me.”
He also denies any conflict of interest in his role as treasurer of the UMP and his previous ministerial budget post.
But Mr Woerth’s woes could be compounded if a judge decides this week to broaden an investigation into the secretly-recorded tapes to a tax probe.