After months of denials, former French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac has made a startling confession that he did indeed have an undisclosed foreign bank account, as originally revealed by Mediapartfour months ago.
Cahuzac, 60, who resigned last month after a judicial investigation was launched into the affair, used his own blog to admit that he has held a foreign bank account “for some 20 years” and that it latterly contained 600,000 euros.
Following Mediapart's initial revelations about the account, Cahuzac filed a lawsuit against this website for deffamation. Addressing Members of Parliament (MPs) in parliament's lower house, the National Assembly, on December 5th 2012, one day after Mediapart revealed the existence of the account, Cahuzac declared: “I do not have, I have never had a foreign account, not now, not before.”
Appointed budget minister in the new socialist government that came to power in May 2012, he announced last November that his ministry was launching a crackdown on tax fraud.
In his statement on Tuesday, Cahuzac, who had earlier in the day confessed to the two judges leading the investigation into what was until then suspicions that he had a secret foreign account, said he had been trapped in a "spiral of lies" and begged the French public to forgive him.
The former minister was immediately placed under investigation on Tuesday, a legal status that precedes charges, for "laundering the procedes of tax fraud" and for "laundering funds originating from advantages provided by a company whose services or products are reimbursed by the Social Security [welfare system]”. If charged, tried and found guilty, Cahuzac faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of 375,000 euros.
In 1993, Cahuzac, a qualified surgeon, set up a consultancy firm called 'Cahuzac Conseil' that gave what he described as "technical" advice to the French pharmaceutical industry. Previously, between 1988 and 1991, he had served as a senior member of staff for the then-health minister Claude Evin. He is also a plastic surgeon specialized in hair transplant operations, for which he set up a clinic during the 1990s.
Cahuzac declared on his personal blog on Tuesday afternoon that earlier in the day, and at his request, he had been to see the two examining magistrates Roger Le Loire and Renaud Van Ruymbeke who are investigating the affair so that “I could at last give the explanations that are required concerning the holding of a foreign bank account which I have been the beneficiary of for some 20 years”.
He continued: “I confirmed the existence of this account to them, and I informed them that I have already sent the necessary instructions so that all of the assets held in the account, which had not been added to for some dozen years, amounting to about 600,000 euros, be transferred on to my bank account in Paris.”
Cahuzac, who until today had repeatedly and vehemently denied the reports first published by Mediapart back in December, then made an unreserved apology and a plea for forgiveness.
“To Monsieur the president of the [French] republic, to the prime minister, to my former government colleagues, I ask pardon for the damage I have caused them. To my parliamentary colleagues, to those who voted for me, to the French [people], I express my sincere and most profound regrets,” he wrote. “I think also of my staff, of my friends and my family who I have so disappointed.”
Cahuzac added: “I have led a wrenching inner battle to try and resolve the conflict between the duty of truth, which I have failed, and the concern of fulfilling the missions that were given to me, and notably the last one that I was not able to see through to the end. I was caught in a spiral of lies and I lost my way. I am devastated by remorse.
“To have thought that I could avoid facing up to a past that I wanted to consider as bygone was an unspeakable fault. I will from now on confront this reality in all transparency.”
President François Hollande issued a statement shortly after Cahuzac's confession. "The president of the [French] republic, takes note, with great severity, of Jérôme Cahuzac’s confession to the examining magistrates concerning the holding of an account abroad," it read. "It is now for the justice system to decide the consequences in all independence. By denying the existence of this account before the national [parliament], he has committed an unpardonable moral fault. For a person with political responsibilities, two virtues are required of them: exemplarity and the truth.”
Cahuzac's confession comes after four months in which when budget minister – and as such regarded as a key member of the government team – told Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and President François Hollande that he had never held a Swiss bank account.
In an interview Tuesday evening on French television channel France 2, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that until now he had “no reason not to believe” in Cahuzac’s denials over the account. “I call on Jérôme Cahuzac to assume all the consequences of this particularly grave lie, with regard to the [institution of the French] republic, with regard to the republican state, with regard to the French people, and to no longer exercise political responsibility, whatever the form.”
Soon after Cahuzac's confession on Tuesday afternoon, Socialist Party spokesman, and Senator, David Assouline told reporters: “We are stupefied, shocked, as much by the facts that have been admitted to, which are unacceptable, as by the lies. The confidence of the president of the French republic, of national [parliament], of all the socialists, has been betrayed." He then appeared to contradict the official version of events surrounding Jérôme Cahuzac's departure from government on March 19th, which was presented as a resignation that Hollande had accepted. "The president took the right decision [to remove Cahuzac from his post]. It is, since this decision, an affair that concerns only Jérôme Cahuzac. I have a feeling of outrage, of sadness," Assouline said.
Cahuzac's denials began immediately after Mediapart published its first revelations about the secret foreign account on December 4th. In a Tweet message the same day, he wrote: "I will take legal action against all those who repeat this gravely defamatory calumny and who call my honour into question. Including here!"
Even after his official resignation last month, Cahuzac continued to protest his innocence. "This changes nothing regarding either my innocence or the calumnious nature of the accusations made against me,” he added, “and it is to demonstrate this that I will as of now place all my energy.” His admissions now mean that not only is the former minister guilty of having an undisclosed foreign bank account, he is also guilty of lying before Parliament and to the French president.
Despite the seriousness of the allegations against the budget minister, Cahuzac's denials and his legal action against Mediapart, plus a concerted public relations campaign by his PR team, saw most of the French media choosing to either ignore the story or to simply report the minister's comments. It was only when the prosecution authorities in Paris announced last month that they were launching a full-blown independent judicial investigation into the affair that most media outlets began reporting the affair. His resignation on Friday 19th March came just three days after the investigation was announced.