Balladur urged to act on political corruption

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AS JUDICIAL investigations look likely to implicate two more French government ministers this week, Philippe Seguin, the Gaullist speaker of the National Assembly, has called for new legislation to combat political corruption.

Mr Seguin's initiative, just before the last session of parliament of Francois Mitterrand's presidency began yesterday, opened a new rift in the Gaullist RPR party.

Mr Seguin, never an ally of Edouard Balladur, criticised the Gaullist Prime Minister for his 'reticence' in dealing with corruption.

Last week, Gerard Longuet, the Industry Minister, obtained a delay of one month in proceedings against him. This was accorded by the Justice Ministry, in order to allow him to produce evidence of his good faith after Renaund Van Ruymbeke, France's foremost anti-corruption magistrate, had recommended that Mr Longuet be charged with fraud because two companies had picked up part of the bill for building his Saint Tropez villa. Yesterday, the ministry ordered an investigation into the funding of the Republican Party.

Mr Balladur's own rule is that any minister charged with an offence should immediately resign while investigations run their course.

Mr Longuet's real importance to Mr Balladur comes from the minister's position as president of the conservative Republican Party. The party is one of the components of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), the Gaullists' coalition partner in government.

Mr Balladur, buoyed by high ratings in the opinion polls, is expected to seek election to the presidency when Mr Mitterrand's term expires in May.

The financing of Mr Longuet's villa came to light during investigations into suspected illegal funding of the Republican Party during the late 1980s. Last Friday, a prosecutor authorised a complaint to be laid against persons unknown in the wider party funds issue. This would specifically concentrate on a company set up to acquire the party's Paris headquarters.

The company's four directors include not only Mr Longuet but Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, and Alain Madelin, the Minister for Businesses and Economic Development. By not naming names, the formula chosen might allow the investigation to proceed without bringing in personalities before the presidential election next April and May.

In July, Alain Carignon, the Gaullist Communication Minister, resigned after he was charged for fraud. Mr Longuet's departure is probably imminent.

If Mr Leotard and Mr Madelin were forced to go, this would cast a cloud over Mr Balladur's government.