French President François Hollande pledged during his election campaign to clean up French political governance, blighted by years of recurrent scandals and conflicts of interest. Among the promises he made was that anyone who had been convicted of crimes would be excluded from government. Yet Hollande’s first act after he was sworn in was to appoint Jean-Marc Ayrault as his prime minister who, when mayor of Nantes in 1997, received a suspended prison sentence for favouritism in the allocation of a city hall contract, described by a court of audit as “a serious infringement of the rules governing public contracts”. While Ayrault insists that “my personal integrity was never in question”, his lawyers argue that he has been legally rehabilitated and have threatened to sue those who engage in “character defamation” by publicly raising the affair. Mathilde Mathieu and Michel Deléan report.