French budget minister's tape recording about Swiss bank account genuine, say investigators


The position of Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac in President Hollande's government looks increasingly under pressure after a preliminary formal investigation has revealed that a key element in the allegations surrounding his undisclosed Swiss bank account has been authenticated. Technicians and witnesses have confirmed that a tape recording in which Cahuzac is heard discussing his bank account at UBS in Geneva is genuine, and that the voice indeed belongs to the socialist politician. Cahuzac has always denied having the account. Investigators now believe the affair should be handed over to an independent examining magistrate. Fabrice Arfi reports.

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A preliminary investigation into alleged 'laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud' in the case of France's Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac has found that a tape recording in which he discusses his undisclosed bank account in Geneva is genuine. Both expert analysis and the evidence of witnesses prove the authenticity of the recording, which was made accidentally and without Cahuzac's knowledge.

In the recording, made in late 2000, the man who is now in charge of balancing France's books and fighting tax evasion, speaks of his embarrassment at having the account at UBS in Geneva. “It pisses me off to have an account open there. UBS is not necessarily the most hidden of banks,” he is heard saying on the tape, whose existence was revealed by Mediapart last December. Cahuzac, 60, closed the account in 2010, shortly before he was appointed as president of the finance commission of the National Assembly. According to sources informed of the operation, funds held in the account were then transferred to Singapore.

The revelation that the tape has been officially demonstrated to be genuine is bound to make Cahuzac's position in the French government more vulnerable.

Following Mediapart's exclusive revelations last year, the minister has always publicly denied having the UBS account but initially refused to comment on the tape's validity. And emails seen by Mediapart show that in December 2012 Cahuzac did not deny its authenticity in correspondence with a friend. Later, however, he suggested it was not his voice on the tape. Up to this point the budget minister has taken no legal action against Mediapart in relation to the status of the tape.

The police and senior financial investigators believe they have uncovered enough elements to justify an independent examining magistrate investigating the Cahuzac affair. Indeed, examining magistrate Guillaume Daïeff, who is carrying out a separate investigation into alleged complicity in tax evasion by UBS, has already written to the prosecution authorities in Paris underlining that the facts relating to Cahuzac are “connected” to his case and that he would “not be opposed” to the terms of his reference being added to so that he could investigate the budget minister's case.

That key decision lies in the hands of Paris's public prosecutor François Molins.

On February 19th Cahuzac hinted to journalists that he was expecting some kind of bad event to happen – without giving any clue as to in which domain – when he announced at an informal breakfast meeting that he was expecting to “take a crash tackle” (the word is 'caramel' in French as in the sweet, here used ironically). When journalists asked what he meant by this the minister replied: “In rugby a 'caramel' is a blow you don't get up from.”

The work to authenticate the tape was carried out by technicians from the technical squad the Police scientifique et technique (PTS) based at Ecully, in the Rhône, in southern France. Meanwhile officers from the national financial and tax investigation unit the Division nationale d’investigations financières et fiscales (Dniff), based at Nanterre on the western outskirts of Paris, who are leading the initial investigation, have spoken to witnesses who confirm both that it is Cahuzac's voice and that the call came from his phone.

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