A “devastated” President François Hollande has announced a series of actions to clean up French public life in the wake of the Jérôme Cahuzac tax evasion scandal.
Mr Hollande, struggling to save his presidency after only 11 months in office, promised new bodies to investigate the private finances of politicians and to crack down on tax fraud. He also promised to lead an EU-wide crusade against offshore and continental tax havens.
The President said he had been “wounded, shaken and devastated” by the admission last week by Mr Cahuzac, his former Budget Minister, that he had dodged taxes for more than two decades by placing large sums in undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore.
“I was elected on a promise to run an irreproachable Republic,” Mr Hollande said. “I cannot leave such a scandal unanswered.”
Ministers have been ordered to reveal their bank balances and all business and property holdings by Monday. A law will oblige members of parliament to do the same. A new High Authority will be set up to monitor the finances of public officials and vet the private dealings of ministers before and after they are appointed.
Mr Hollande said it was wrong to assume all politicians were cheats, but strong measures were needed to “moralise” the French public. A prosecution unit with “exceptional powers” would be created to investigate tax fraud. Politicians would be banned from certain “second jobs”, such as working for pharmaceutical companies.
Finally, Mr Hollande promised to crack down on tax havens by forcing French banks and large businesses to publish an annual list of all their foreign subsidiaries and the nature of their activities. He said that he would push for similar rules throughout the European Union.
The Cahuzac scandal threatens to paralyse a Socialist administration already struggling with high unemployment, minimal growth and approval ratings in the mid 20s. Mr Cahuzac, 60, a wealthy former cosmetic surgeon, was until last month the minister in charge of spending cuts and cracking down on tax evasion.
After four months of denials, including lies to the President and parliament, he admitted last Tuesday that he had regularly hidden money in bank accounts abroad and still held €600,000 (£510,000) in Singapore.
President Hollande angrily dismissed any possibility that Mr Cahuzac might reclaim his seat in parliament – something that he is entitled to do now that he has left the government. “There is a question of conscience, if one can still use the word [in his case],” Mr Hollande said. “How can he return to a parliament to which he lied?”
Several ministers have already published lists of their assets. The Culture Minister, Aurélie Filipetti, revealed that she owned a 70 sq m flat in Paris and a David Beckham football shirt. Some opposition politicians have dismissed the exercise as a “diversionary exercise” by Mr Hollande to encourage public anger against rich politicians rather than dishonest ones. Others, like the former Prime Minister, François Fillon, have already jumped the gun and issued a list of their possessions.