Two French ministers resign over revelations about spending

 

TWO FRENCH ministers have resigned after revelations about their extravagant spending of taxpayers’ money on cigars and a private jet embarrassed the government.

Overseas development minister Alain Joyandet and Christian Blanc, a junior minister with responsibility for greater Paris, both had their resignations accepted by president Nicolas Sarkozy last night.

The pair had been under severe pressure in recent weeks after Le Canard Enchaînépublished details of their spending thousands of euro in public money on cigars and private jets at a time when the government was preparing the public for deep spending cuts.

In Mr Blanc’s case, the newspaper published receipts for €12,000 spent in a Paris cigar shop for high-end Cuban brands that were billed to his department. Mr Blanc, a former head of Air France, blamed a staff member for the purchases and immediately reimbursed the state €3,500 for those he had smoked.

In March, Mr Joyandet was heavily criticised when it was revealed he spent €116,500 to hire a private plane to take him to Martinique for an emergency meeting on the earthquake in Haiti.

Mr Sarkozy’s government has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after five senior figures in the ruling UMP bloc found themselves embroiled in controversy over their financial affairs.

Although yesterday’s resignations did not come as a great surprise, their timing will stir plenty of debate.

The rows involving Mr Joyandet and Mr Blanc date back to last March and had mostly petered out. The government had already taken action in both cases – first by changing the rules for the use of private jets by ministers and then by asking Mr Blanc reimburse the state for the cigars.

With opposition parties demanding resignations after recent scandals, however, Mr Sarkozy will hope the pair’s departure will ease the pressure on Eric Woerth, the embattled labour minister who the president is desperate not to lose.

The opposition alleges Mr Woerth had a conflict of interest because his wife worked for a firm that gave financial advice to the wealthy L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. French authorities are investigating Ms Bettencourt’s financial affairs after it was alleged she had sought to evade taxes.

Mr Woerth has strongly denied any wrongdoing and the government insists he is being targeted because he is overseeing a controversial pension reform.

Mr Sarkozy sees the reform as the flagship domestic policy initiative of his term in office.