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Mediapart Wed 27 Jul 2016 27/7/2016 Mid-day edition

How much did he know? Now President Hollande faces questions over Cahuzac affair

President François Hollande has condemned the former budget minister’s 'unforgivable fault' after the latter's confession about having an undisclosed Swiss bank account. But now questions are being raised about the French head of state's own handling of the affair. Did the president fail to act despite reportedly being given information months ago which suggested that Jérôme Cahuzac was lying?

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President François Hollande is under growing political pressure after the shock confession by former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac that he does indeed have an undisclosed foreign bank account.

Politicians from the Right but also some allies are openly asking whether President Hollande and his prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault allowed the budget minister to stay in office for three months despite themselves having serious doubts about Cahuzac's denials over Mediapart's revelations that he had a Swiss bank account.

Both the president and the prime minister, who were assured by Cahuzac that he was innocent, gave their then budget minister their full backing following those revelations at the beginning of last December. Even after the budget minister's resignation last month in the face of a full-blown investigation into the affair, Ayrault showed his support, telling MPs: “I pay tribute to Jérôme Cahuzac who showed dignity and responsibility in handing in...his resignation."

But a report in the weekly satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné claims that the president's office at the Elysée was made aware at Christmas – just three weeks after Mediapart's story – that a key element of the allegations, a tape recording featuring Cahuzac discussing his Swiss bank account, was genuine. This crucial information apparently came from the Ministry of the Interior.

“If in fact, as Le Canard Enchaîné wrote, the Elysée was aware of the truth of Mediapart's information since December, we have the right to ask questions about the way in which the public interest is being managed in this country,” Pascal Durand, national secretary of the green alliance Europe Ecologie les Verts (EELV), who are allies of the government in which it has two ministers, told Mediapart.The question remains unanswered: did the Elysée protect Jérôme Cahuzac?”

Elsewhere on the Left, too, questions are being raised about the role of the Elysée and the prime minister's office. “Where does the chain of lies stop?” asked Jean-Luc Mélenchon, co-president of the radical-left Parti de gauche. “Who knew and said nothing?”

Meanwhile senior figures in the main right-wing opposition party the UMP have queued up to implicate both the president and the prime minister in the affair. The head of the UMP's MPs in the National Assembly, Christian Jacob, said he found it “hard to imagine that Hollande and Ayrault were not aware of the situation”.

The UMP MP Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a candidate in next year's elections to choose the mayor of Paris, said the prime minister should “explain himself in front of the National Assembly”, pointing out that this was where Cahuzac had himself lied to MPs over the affair. Kosciusko-Morizet added: “At what point did [the government] have doubts? What was said between Jérôme Cahuzac and his prime minister, between Jérôme Cahuzac and the president of the Republic?”

'When did the president know?'

Valérie Debord, a senior UMP party official, told Mediapart: “The only question that matters is: since when did François Hollande know? Was Cahuzac protected?” UMP MP Daniel Fasquelle, speaking to Mediapart in the National Assembly, also demanded to know if the president and prime minister were aware of Cahuzac's guilt. “If yes, why did they delay so long? There was, after all, information that was doing the rounds. [They] had the means to verify the truth of this information.”

The centre-right Union des démocrates et indépendants (UDI) party, founded by former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, said that if the president and prime minister had been aware of information implicating Cahuzac then this was “unpardonable”. The party's secretary general Jean-Christophe Lagarde added: “If they were not aware, then it's equally serious, because there is a problem of competence. After Mediapart's first revelations, they should have found out about them. Did the president and the prime minister protect him? If so, it is a state scandal which will take a quite different turn.”

Speaking last night on France 2 television , the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault himself said of Cahuzac's denials: “I had no reason not to believe him.” And most Socialist Party MPs, though appalled by Cahuzac's “betrayal”, sprang to the defence of the government. Ayrault loyalist MP Olivier Faure praised the government for the swift way it had handled the affair. "Jérôme always denied having an account in Switzerland or elsewhere,” he explained. Another MP Nicolas Bays added: "The idea that [the prime minister and president] were aware, I can't accept that for a second." He said the government had scrupulously not got involved in the investigation because of rules about the “separation of powers” between the executive and the judiciary.

Privately, however, some socialist MPs agreed there were questions to be answered. “The Right is correct,” one told Mediapart off the record. “François Hollande or the prime minister must speak and disassociate themselves from Cahuzac.” Another socialist MP told Mediapart: “Yes, the role of the head of state in this affair is a legitimate question. I think that François knew nothing...well, I think so, because [after the Cahuzac confession] I'm no longer sure of anything!'