How French Senate refused to lift immunity for Serge Dassault over election-buying allegations

By , , and Pascale Pascariello

The right-wing senator and billionaire Serge Dassault is at the centre of claims that he paid out millions of euros to buy votes when he was mayor of a town near Paris. Two independent judges investigating the affair want Dassault's parliamentary immunity as a senator to be lifted so they can probe deeper and if necessary detain the 88-year-old industrialist for questioning. But on Wednesday members of a Senate committee voted narrowly for their colleague to keep his immunity. This is despite the fact the two judges produced a dossier of the case against Dassault, including details of a Lebanese bank account allegedly used to channel 3 million euros to buy votes. Fabrice Arfi, Michaël Hajdenberg, Mathilde Mathieu and Pascale Pascariello report on the political and judicial fallout of an extraordinary vote by a Senate committee with a left-wing majority.

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In the end all it took was a tiny handful of senators to shackle the judicial authorities in their attempts to unravel one of the biggest corruption scandals of recent years in France: the Dassault affair. On Wednesday members of the Senate office committee snubbed investigating magistrates Serge Tournaire and Guillaume Daïeff by refusing to lift parliamentary immunity from Senator Serge Dassault, the right-wing UMP politician and billionaire industrialist who is at the centre of allegations of electoral corruption in the town where he served as mayor for many years. The investigation centres on claims that Dassault used millions of euros to buy votes to ensure he was voted in as mayor of Corbeil-Essonnes near Paris, a post he held from 1995 to 2010. There are also allegations that an associate of Dassault attempted to murder a man who demanded more money from the billionaire in relation to the alleged election-rigging. Wednesday's vote means that the two examining magistrates are deprived of important judicial tools in their search for evidence, for example the ability to detain Serge Dassault for questioning or hold him in temporary custody.