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Issue #1557      25 July 2012

Illicit funds behind French politics

Police agents searched the residence and office of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy just two weeks after he lost his presidential immunity, and did so in an intentionally visible manner.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The investigation into the illegal funding of Sarkozy’s election campaign by the L’Oreal corporation began in 2010, giving rise, to everyone’s surprise, to the much talked about case of Lilliane Bettencourt, former owner of the cosmetics empire, whose family ended up embroiled in internal wrangling and hereditary rights.

It emerged from a recording of telephone conversations made public by Bettencourt’s butler that one of the richest women in the world allegedly evaded taxes amounting to considerable sums and, moreover, received tax advantages worth millions of euros from former Minister of Labour Eric Woerth, a close collaborator of Sarkozy’s.

After that, Claire Thibout, Bettencourt’s former accountant, stated that French politicians with conservative leanings, including Nicolas Sarkozy, had allegedly received envelopes containing cash at the Bettencourt mansion, while Woerth, as treasurer of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), received an envelope containing 150,000 euros for Sarkozy’s election campaign.

The illegal financing of election campaigns is the Achilles heel of French politicians, both conservative and socialist. Sarkozy’s presidential predecessor, Jacques Chirac, recently received a two-year prison term. Due to his delicate state of health, he was unable to attend the court hearings or complete his sentence in a penitentiary.

He pleaded guilty to having created fictitious posts during the second half of the 1990’s in the Paris mayor’s office, which he headed for close to 20 years. The salaries of the non-existent employees swelled his Party’s accounts. Similar charges were filed against Alain Juppé, Chirac’s collaborator, until recently Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sarkozy’s cabinet.

The socialists do not have a much better record; during the presidency of François Mitterrand (1981-1995), mentor of the current head of state, François Hollande, the state oil corporation Elf Aquitaine served almost officially as a source of funds for public administrations.

A shameful mix of personal, political, state and commercial interests was revealed in early 2000 during investigations into the Elf case. Christine Deviers-Joncour, the lover of one of France’s most famous socialists, Roland Dumas, was involved in it. Dumas denied all charges and finally emerged intact from the situation, but in 2007, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for undue appropriation of funds.

Not long ago, an incident occurred which reveals the way in which the dubious dealings of France’s two major parties overlap. In 2008, almost 300 million euros were returned, out of court, to the former politician of socialist leanings and magnate Bernard Tapie. The decision to do this was made by then Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, now director of the IMF.

Tapie, a successful businessman, specialising in injecting capital into and reselling important enterprises (he was at one time co-owner of Adidas), owned the famous Olympique football club and was a minister in a Socialist government. He was tipped as another Silvio Berlusconi.

He was sent to prison for fixing game results, which ruined his potential political career and converted him into a fervent admirer of Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is precisely this close relationship which analysts link to the French government’s strange decision to support the business magnate in the long-running legal case Tapie brought against Credit Lyonnais, which had gone bankrupt and been placed under state control. Tapie accused the bank of fraud during the sale of Adidas. Lagarde’s role in the matter has not been fully clarified.

The public attacks on Sarkozy have a logical explanation: they are the other side of his politics, based on an unbreakable relation between commercial and state interests. And everything seems to indicate that the crimes are there to incriminate him.

However, the problem does not lie in Sarkozy’s personality, but in the current political culture which allows for removing the boundaries between the private and public, commercial and state.

Past experiences have shown that double standards and systemic corruption have always been aspects of politics in general, not only French ones. But the globalized and universal environment has given this phenomenon a new dimension and ideological discrepancies have ended up disappearing together with ethical standards.

François Hollande is in an advantageous position, and so it is easy for him to criticise his predecessor and promise social justice. It was not coincidental that one of his most high-flown pre-electoral promises was to introduce a 75 percent tax on capital wealth, to provide resources for the reconstruction of the national economy.

Little can come out of this initiative and if, in spite of everything, the president attempts it, it is more than likely that information will appear confirming his links with these “wealthiest citizens in the country.”

And so, political life goes on and with it the parade of skeletons in the cupboard.


Next article – Over a third of Fukushima children at risk of developing cancer

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