Former French minister in jail

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The Independent Online
THE ARREST on corruption charges of Alain Carignon, a cabinet minister until three months ago, has rocked France's political establishment and dealt a blow to Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister.

Mr Carignon's arrest came as Gerard Longuet, Industry Minister and a leader of the centre-right Union for French Democracy party, the coalition partner of Mr Balladur's Gaullist RPR, was expected to resign after an examining magistrate requested that he should be charged with fraud. Mr Longuet, who supports Mr Balladur as a candidate in spring's presidential election, has a government-ordered reprieve from charges until 31 October but there is no sign that it will be anything more than a delay. If he goes, Mr Balladur will have to reshuffle the cabinet.

Mr Carignon, the Gaullist Communication Minister until he resigned on 25 July when he was accused of receiving the proceeds of fraud, was arrested on Wednesday in Paris, taken to Lyons, charged with 'passive corruption' and put in prison. This procedure is usually reserved for violent criminals, offenders who might flee the country, attempt to influence witnesses or destroy evidence.

Now mayor of Grenoble, he is suspected of taking favours, such as a 280sq metre rent- free flat in Paris, funding for election publicity, and the use of a private aircraft in return for public-works contracts.

The Gaullist-conservative government coalition, meanwhile, showed signs of panic after opinion polls showed for the first time that Jacques Delors, the European Commission president and most likely Socialist candidate for the presidency, was on equal footing with Mr Balladur.

Mr Balladur has not yet said he will be a candidate when Francois Mitterrand's mandate ends in May. But the assumption that he will stand has led to a running feud with Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist RPR party leader.

As the new poll gave both Mr Balladur and Mr Delors 50 per cent each, pro-Balladur politicians such as Andre Rossinot, the centre-right Public Service Minister, and Jacques Baumel, a Gaullist deputy, urged Mr Chirac to stand down.

Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister, renewed his call for 'primaries' to select a single conservative candidate. In the past two presidential elections the right lost after fielding two candidates against Mr Mitterrand.

In another development, Renaud Van Ruymbeke, the country's top anti-corruption judge, ordered the detention on Wednesday of Alain Ceillier, head of Nomura France bank, as part of an

investigation into party funding.