Cahuzac scandal: Ministers publish wealth details

Francois Hollande The Cahuzac scandal has heaped pressure on President Francois Hollande

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French government ministers have revealed details of their personal wealth as part of efforts by Francois Hollande to regain public trust.

The statistics were posted on a specially created website on Monday, on the orders of Mr Hollande.

The move followed the scandal surrounding former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, who is charged with tax fraud over a secret bank account.

Mr Hollande's popularity ratings have plummeted in the wake of the scandal.

Each of France's 37 ministers is required to publish details of their personal finances.

The list of assets includes details of bank accounts, life assurance policies, property and other expensive items such as cars, art works and antiques.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says the exercise is designed to be eye-catching, and dispel some of the public disenchantment with politics that has developed in recent weeks.

Two Renaults

Jerome Cahuzac caused shock earlier this month when he admitted he had hidden about 600,000 euros (£509,000; $770,000) in a Swiss bank account, having repeatedly denied it.

He resigned from his government position and is now being investigated for tax fraud.

For politicians of both left and right, the obligation to declare their wealth fosters a presumption of collective guilt which is entirely unjust.

Mr Cahuzac, they say, should be seen as what he is: a grotesque exception.

And others argue that the president has simply missed the point.

What really counts in assessing ministers' integrity, they say, is not so much assets as interests.

In the UK, for example, (contrary to what the French government is saying) there is no obligation for government ministers to publish what they own - only to reveal those interests which might clash with their responsibilities.

Interests, in other words, are public. But assets should be private.

And forcing politicians to make their personal possessions public could persuade many a would-be MP that it's not worth the humiliation.

President Hollande has also been embarrassed by revelations that his former Socialist Party treasurer, Jean-Jacques Augier, held personal investments in two offshore companies in the Cayman Islands.

The scandals have further damaged Mr Hollande's credibility among the French public.

But politicians from the left as well as the right have derided the president's demand for ministers to reveal their wealth - details of which emerged in the days leading up to Monday's deadline.

Health and Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine, said her declaration would show about 1.4 million euros (£1.2m; $1.8 million) in assets, based primarily on several properties in Paris.

The junior minister for the disabled, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, said she had two apartments and a house in southern France, worth a total of 565,000 euros (£482,000; $740,000).

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said she owned a 70-square-metre (750-square-foot) flat in Paris, adding more light-heartedly that she also possessed a David Beckham T-shirt.

Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, of the Greens, revealed she owned a house worth 168,000 euros (£143,000; $219,000) and two cars - a Renault Twingo worth 1,500 (£1,200; $1,900) euros and a Renault 4L, worth 10,000 francs at the time of purchase in 2000.

On his list, Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg declared a designer lounge chair worth about 4,000 euros (£3,400; $5,200).

Mr Hollande's approval ratings were already suffering as a result of France's continuing economic problems, but have since nosedived.

When he was elected less than a year ago, he promised voters a government that would promote morality and integrity in public life.

In an apparent effort to regain the political initiative, Mr Hollande's government is also planning to table new laws obliging all members of parliament to declare their assets.

It also has plans for a special prosecutor to focus on corruption, and tougher penalties for those found guilty of fraud.

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