It turns out that the gamekeeper was a poacher, or braconnier , as they say in France, all along. The minister in charge of a crackdown on tax evasion, Jérôme Cahuzac, spent four months on TV and in parliament in Clintonesque denials – "I do not have, I have never had, an account abroad, not now, not ever" – only now to confess, as the media/judicial posse closed in, that, oui …
For 20 years he has had secret accounts in Switzerland and later in Singapore, hiding €600,000 from the French taxman, proceeds of his earnings as a one-time cardiologist and health consultant who later made a fortune in plastic surgery by setting up a successful hair-transplant clinic. And now, having resigned in disgrace, his government perhaps mortally wounded, he has been placed under formal investigation and faces charges for laundering money from tax fraud and a possible five years in jail.
It all brings back so vividly memories of days of our own bogus non-resident accounts and of Charlie Haughey and Ansbacher and the Caymans. For France's Socialist Party and President François Hollande it is an unmitigated disaster. Until now it had been the Gaullists and the right who were tainted by improper money – in 2011 Jacques Chirac became the first former president convicted of criminal charges since the second World War, and Nicolas Sarkozy has been under investigation over
illicit party funding.
Now, Hollande who was elected on a promise to create an “exemplary republic” and to clean all this up, a crusade against fraudsters and tax-dodging millionaires who were not, he insisted, paying their fair share, languishes at record low poll ratings only a year into the job. What price that crusade? And it is political manna from heaven for the far-right National Front, were it not for the fact that one of their members is also implicated in assisting Cahuzac.
Hollande’s own credibility – and credulity – is now also at issue. Did he really not know? And if not, why not? And the same of finance minister Pierre Moscovici, who protests somewhat lamely his only mistake had been showing “too much trust”. After all he had looked Cahuzac in the eye “more than 50 times” to be met with “vigorous denials”. Indeed. At the very least, as Conservative UMP deputy Christian Jacob says, it is difficult to imagine Hollande “didn’t know what was going on”.
The president, who made an emotional appearance on TV on Wednesday to denounce Cahuzac's "insult to the republic" and to insist that he did not benefit from any "protection" from the government, has promised a "merciless" crackdown to root out conflicts of interest and a ban from public life on any politician convicted of corruption. Too late, perhaps. Le cheval a déjà fuit.