French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam
French former Justice Minister Michel Mercier speaking to journalists on March 29, 2012 in Paris (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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French minister appears on front cover of Playboy

Can posing for Playboy be a feminist statement? A French government minister thinks so and has defended her decision to appear -- clothed -- on the front cover of the notorious magazine.

French minister appears on front cover of Playboy

Marlene Schiappa, a 40-year-old feminist author who was plucked from obscurity by President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, is no stranger to controversy and has repeatedly angered rightwingers.

But even the prime minister and leftwing critics feel the minister for the social economy and associations has made a mistake with her latest stunt: posing for Playboy to accompany a 12-page interview on women’s and gay rights as well as abortion. 

“Defending the right of women to do what they want with their bodies: everywhere and all the time,” Schiappa wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “In France, women are free. Whether it annoys the retrogrades and hypocrites or not.”

The decision has irritated some colleagues in the government which has been battling strikes and increasingly violent demonstrations against plans to raise the retirement age by two years.

The sight of Schiappa wearing designer dresses for a glamour magazine was viewed by some as sending the wrong message, with one person quoted as saying they thought it was an April’s Fool joke when they first heard about it.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, only the second woman to occupy the position, called Schiappa to tell her that it “was not at all appropriate, especially in the current period,” an aide told AFP on Saturday.

Greens MP and fellow women’s rights activist Sandrine Rousseau, an outspoken critic of the centrist government, said: “where is the respect for the French people?

“People who are going to have to work for two years more, who are demonstrating, who are losing days of salary, who aren’t managing to eat because of inflation?” she told the BFM channel on Saturday.

“Women’s bodies should be able to be exposed anywhere, I don’t have a problem with that, but there’s a social context.”

‘Not soft porn’

Playboy has defended the spread which will appear in its French-language edition.

Schiappa was the “most ‘Playboy compatible'” of government ministers “because she is attached to the rights of women and she has understood that it’s not a magazine for old machos but could be an instrument for the feminist cause,” editor Jean-Christophe Florentin told AFP.

“Playboy is not a soft porn magazine but a 300-page quarterly ‘mook’ (a mix of a book and a magazine) that is intellectual and on trend,” Florentin added, while admitting there were “still a few undressed women but they’re not the majority of the pages.”

Other criticism of Schiappa has focused on the broader issue of the centrist government’s communication strategy.

Macron, who rarely gives interviews to the French press, offered his thoughts on political power and pensions in a long interview published in children’s magazine “Pif, le mag” last week.

Schiappa, a regular on French TV talk shows, brought in legislation outlawing catcalling and street harassment while serving as equalities minister in 2018.

The mother-of-two was a prolific author and blogger before her career in politics, writing about the challenges of motherhood, women’s health and pregnancy.

She also penned a 2010 book that offered sex tips for the overweight which some critics saw as propagating stereotypes.