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Macron’s chief of staff charged with conflict of interest

The top official in French President Emmanuel Macron's office has been charged with a conflict of interest, the chief financial crimes prosecutor said on Monday.

Macron's chief of staff charged with conflict of interest
Alexis Kohler leaves the Elysee palace following the weekly Cabinet meeting in Paris. Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

The move against Alexis Kohler, who holds one of France’s most powerful jobs as Elysee secretary-general, came hours after another Macron ally, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, was ordered to stand trial in a separate case, also over a conflict of interest.

Kohler is accused over his professional and family links with Italian-Swiss shipping company Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) which is run by his mother’s cousins, prosecutor Jean-Francois Bohnert said in a statement.

On Monday, Kohler “categorically denied any wrongdoing”, his lawyer said, while an official in Macron’s office said Kohler remained in his post.

In 2018, Anticor, an anti-corruption NGO, filed a legal complaint against Kohler for illegal influence-peddling concerning contracts awarded to MSC in 2010 and 2011.

Kohler allegedly failed to reveal his family connections with MSC to the French agency for public investment where he worked at the time.

The case was dismissed the following year, but in 2020, Anticor filed a civil case which usually triggers a probe by an investigating magistrate.

Kohler, whose office at the Elysee is located next to that of the president, is often described as Macron’s right-hand man.

His job involves handling emergencies, major economic and social issues as well as some political decisions.

His lawyer, Eric Dezeuze, said the discovery of evidence linked to the charging would allow Kohler “to prove his innocence”.

But Anticor lawyer Jean-Baptiste Soufron said “the question of his resignation is now on the table”.

Macron’s administration under pressure

Adding to pressure on Macron’s administration, Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti was ordered Monday to stand trial, charged with misusing his position to settle scores with opponents from his legal career.

The former star lawyer is the first sitting French justice minister to be charged in a legal probe.

The accusations relate to administrative inquiries ordered into three judges during Dupond-Moretti’s time as minister, which were denounced by critics as a witchhunt.

The three judges had ordered police in 2014 to pore through the phone records of dozens of lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The order to stand trial was issued by the investigation commission of the Law Court of the Republic in Paris, which hears cases of alleged wrongdoing by serving ministers.

‘Many irregularities’

But his lawyers, Christophe Ingrain and Remi Lorrain, said they had already appealed, sparking a temporary suspension of the move.

Lorrain said France’s highest appeals court would now pursue the matter.

A source close to the case said it was uncertain when the appeals court would rule on the matter.

Lorrain said there had been “many irregularities” in the case, and the chief prosecutor, Francois Molins, had been “unfair and biased”.

The case against Dupond-Moretti goes back to January 2021 when Anticor and a magistrates’ union filed a legal complaint, accusing him of using his ministerial powers to take revenge on his enemies in the judiciary.

He was charged the following July.

Despite opposition calls for him to be sacked, Macron re-appointed him as justice minister in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this year.

France’s two main magistrates’ unions said the accusations put Dupond-Moretti in an “unprecedented” position.

In a statement they said there could be “another conflict of interest” when Dupond-Moretti, as justice minister, picks a successor to prosecutor Molins who is to retire in June.

“He would get to appoint his own accuser,” the unions said.

Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International called for Dupond-Moretti’s resignation.

Contacted by AFP, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s office declined to comment on whether Dupond-Moretti’s job was at risk.

A spokesperson for the prime minister noted simply that “the procedure is ongoing” and that it was organised so as not to affect Dupond-Moretti’s business as justice minister.

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POLITICS

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.

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