France to publish ministers' assets as scandal deepens

Hollande scrambles to stem crisis over former budget minister's secret foreign bank account

French president Francois Hollande  speaks to junior minister for budget Jerome Cahuzac at the end of a government meeting about employment and the economic situation in France at the Elysee Palace in Paris in January. Photograp: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

French president Francois Hollande speaks to junior minister for budget Jerome Cahuzac at the end of a government meeting about employment and the economic situation in France at the Elysee Palace in Paris in January. Photograp: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Tue, Apr 9, 2013, 11:08

France's Socialist government has promised to publish details of individual ministers' assets next week as it scrambled to stem a deepening scandal over a former budget minister's secret foreign bank account.

Jerome Cahuzac quit his post in March and was placed under formal investigation for alleged tax fraud last week as he acknowledged he had been caught "in a spiral of lies" over his previous denials of holding a Swiss bank account.

The affair risks upsetting President Francois Hollande's economic reform effort, with even left-wing allies criticising his handling of the scandal. Mr Hollande's opinion poll ratings are already at record lows for his failure to tackle unemployment.

While government opponents are calling for more heads to roll, one minister said a hasty reshuffle would be unwise and it was more likely to happen a few weeks from now. "We find ourselves in a more complicated situation than before in dealing with a difficult economic situation. We will probably have to have a reshuffle, but not right away," the minister told reporters, asking not to be quoted by name.

The Cahuzac affair has dealt a grave blow to a 10-month-old government Mr Hollande had promised would be beyond reproach. Weekend surveys found 60 per cent of the public want him to reshuffle his team and three-quarters view most politicians and elected officials as corrupt.

"To begin with, wealth declarations of all the members of government will be made public by April 15th," French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement last night.

Mr Ayrault said the move - which echoes requirements in the United States and elsewhere for public officials to make asset declarations - would be followed by a law in the coming months setting out moral standards in public life.

Threatening an escalation of the Cahuzac scandal, Swiss RTS TV reported on Sunday, citing banking sources, that the minister had sought to transfer €15 million from one Swiss account to another - far more than the €600,000 he said last week he had in an undeclared foreign account. Mr Cahuzac's French lawyer declined to comment. BFM TV quoted his Swiss-based lawyer, Didier Bottge, as saying the report was "balderdash".

Separately, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius firmly denied local media speculation that he may also hold a Swiss account.

The fact the man in charge of state coffers was cheating the tax authorities will not help Mr Hollande's efforts to convince a sceptical outside world that he has public finances under control as France falls short on its growth and deficit goals.

Calls for protest action from Socialist Party allies betrayed a rift that could hamper Mr Hollande's efforts to pass labour and pension reforms deemed vital for the sickly economy.

Reuters