Former French interior minister in dock over cash payments

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Claude Guéant, Nicolas Sarkozy's former chief of staff and interior minister, one-time national police chief Michel Gaudin and three other top officials who worked for the ex-president are in court this week, accused of misappropriating public funds by receiving tens of thousands of euros in cash payments. The money was siphoned off from a ministerial fund supposed to pay for police investigations. Mediapart's legal affairs correspondent Michel Deléan reports.

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It is a trial without precedent in France. Top members of the French prefecture – a prestigious body of senior state officials – are standing in the dock like common criminals. Claude Guéant, who is also a former interior minister, former police chief Michel Gaudin plus other senior officials Daniel Canepa, Michel Camux and Gérard Moisselin, are appearing before judges in the 32nd chamber of the Paris criminal law courts facing a range of charges including “embezzling public funds”, “aiding and abetting” and “receiving the proceeds of embezzlement”. The trial technically began on Monday, September 28th, but the hearing that day was taken up with procedural issues raised by the defence. The trial proper started on Thursday October 1st.

These five prominent personalities, all from ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's inner circle, were sent for trial by the new prosecution unit for financial crimes, the Parquet National Financier (PNF), in May this year after an initial investigation was started in June 2013. The affair hinges on large cash payments handed out to top members of Sarkoky's office at the ministry of the interior, where the future president was minister, between 2002 and 2004. The cash came from a fund supposed to pay for police investigations and surveillance operations.

The most high-profile defendant is Claude Guéant, who is Sarkozy's former right-hand man, and was his chief of staff at the Elysée from 2007 before being appointed interior minister. Guéant, who is also a prefect, is accused of having wrongly received a total of 210,000 euros while working as Sarkozy's chief of staff at the interior ministry (the sums involved were initially put at 240,000 to 288,000 euros), paid in instalments of 10,000 euros a month from June 2002 to March 2004. He faces charges of “aiding and abetting and the receipt of proceeds from the embezzlement of public money”.

Another prominent figure in the dock this week is Michel Gaudin, who at the time of the alleged offences was director general of France's national police force before becoming the prefect for the Paris police from 2007 to 2012. Gaudin, who is now Sarkozy's chief of staff, is said to have accepted similar sums over the same period as Guéant, and is charged with “embezzling public funds” - meaning he is the alleged main perpetrator of the crime.

Among the other three defendants is Daniel Canepa, who became prefect for the Paris region the Île-de-France from 2008 to 2012, and who is accused of receiving between 21,000 and 28,000 euros in cash while working as deputy chief of staff for Sarkozy from 2002 to 2003. Prefect Michel Camux, who was head of Sarkozy's private office from 2002 to 2004, is accused of receiving 42,000 euros, while Gérard Moisselin, deputy chief of staff at the same office from 2003 to 2004, faces a charge of receiving 18,000 euros. All deny the charges.

It was an official internal inquiry in June 2013 that first revealed that Claude Guéant had received, as Sarkozy's chief of staff at the ministry of the interior, some 10,000 euros in cash a month “from the summer of 2002 at the latest to the summer of 2004”. This was money that had been earmarked as surveillance and investigation expenses - frais d’enquête et de surveillance (FES) in French – set aside for the police. As a result both Guéant and Michel Gaudin were held for questioning on December 17th, 2013.

In fact, the money allegedly embezzled or received by these five defendants is but a drop in the ocean compared with the overall amount involved, for the practice of people taking money from these 'slush funds' continued well after they had moved to other positions, indeed it went on until 2012. According to a summary judgement by the influential financial audit body, the Cour des Comptes, which was made public on March 4th 2014, in total some 34 million euros of investigation funds were received by the office of the director general of the national police between 2002 and 2012. Who were the lucky beneficiaries of these payments? What were the criteria used to make the payments? The Cour des Comptes report does not detail this, simply indicating that the use of these 34 million euros was “totally discretionary”. It said: “Not a single item of supporting documentation was kept until 2011.”

“Some looked on the police as a cash cow,” a former colleague of Guéant at the ministry of the interior told Mediapart. The affair has aroused considerable anger among many police officers, who had to suffer the hierarchy quibbling over the costs of essential investigations and surveillance work while these payouts to top officials were apparently going on.

In a separate case Claude Guéant is under formal investigation – one step short of charges being brought - as part of the ongoing investigation into illegal funding of Sarkozy's 2007 election campaign by Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan regime. Guéant, 70, is being probed for “laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud as part of an organised gang”, “forgery” and “use of false instruments”. Investigators are looking into the origins of more than 500,000 euros that were transferred from abroad into Guéant's account in 2008. Part of this money was later used by Guéant to buy a flat in Paris. In 2013 Guéant claimed that the money came from the sale of two paintings.

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  • The French version of this article can be found here.

English version by Michael Streeter.

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