Disgraced former French minister protects socialist government in hearing
Jérôme Cahuzac faces commission of inquiry over tax fraud charges
Former French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac waits for the start of a hearing at the National Assembly in Paris yesterday. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Jérôme Cahuzac, the socialist budget minister who resigned on March 19th when he was placed under investigation for tax fraud and later confessed to having stashed hundreds of thousands of euro in foreign accounts, tried to salvage a shred of honour yesterday.
“There are two taboos that I never transgressed,” Mr Cahuzac told the parliamentary commission of inquiry. “The first, contrary to what has been written, I never swore on the heads of my children that I did not have an account [abroad] . . . The second taboo: I never lied in writing to the administration that I was in charge of. That seemed impossible to me.”
The conservative deputy Daniel Fasquelle asked Mr Cahuzac: “When I asked you on the floor of the assembly on December 5th if you had an account abroad, you said ‘no’. It was a huge lie, that has had great consequences. Do you regret it?”
Mr Cahuzac replied: “Concerning the reason for the lie, I lied to you simply because in the preceding hours I had lied to the prime minister and the president of the republic.”
Quoted in media
Mr Cahuzac has been quoted by French media as saying that lying to 577 deputies was less serious than François Hollande’s misrepresentation of the true state of the French economy. He ignored Mr Fasquelle’s request to confirm the quote.
Mr Cahuzac, the former rising star of the socialist party, is a cool customer. A gambler who enjoyed trips to Las Vegas and dangerous sports such as parachuting, he nonetheless developed a bleeding ulcer during the four months that resulted in his political downfall and the most difficult weeks of the Hollande presidency. He was difficult to read yesterday.
But he clearly intended to protect his former socialist allies. He had had the impression that he had “put conviction into my denials” and that the president and prime minister believed him. “It seems to me the tax administration did everything it could,” he said.
Mr Hollande’s former deputy chief of staff, Alain Zebulon, testified recently that the Élysée was informed on December 15th of the existence of a tape recording in which Mr Cahuzac talked about his Swiss account. The president did not act on the information.
“We know there was negligence,” Mr Fasquelle said. “Was it sloppiness, or did they deliberately try to save private Cahuzac, but also General Hollande?”
Alain Claeys, the commission spokesman, reminded members that Mr Cahuzac’s wrongdoing was the subject of a separate, criminal investigation. Their job was to determine if the government knew of the fraud before it was revealed by the Mediapart website last December, if the finance ministry investigated the allegation properly, and if the government attempted a cover-up.
Mr Cahuzac testified that the “great wall of China” erected between himself and the finance ministry’s half-hearted investigation of his tax situation had never been breached. He did not return form 754 regarding foreign accounts because he did not want to lie in writing to his own administration.
Having told Europe 1 radio station in the morning that he would answer all deputies’ questions, Mr Cahuzac refused to talk about his foreign accounts or his trips abroad.
Referring to the strong showing by the National Front in the byelection for his former parliamentary seat, Mr Cahuzac had described himself on the radio as “the ideal scapegoat for all political turpitude” and said he has “the feeling that I was always irreproachable in my political career”.
The former minister was more contrite before the commission. “I think I’m the victim of myself, and of no one else,” he said.