French parties 'shared £56m embezzlement'

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The Independent Online

Leading French political parties shared in the embezzlement of at least £56m from funds intended to upgrade deprived schools, a judicial investigation has been toldheard.

Leading French political parties shared in the embezzlement of at least £56m from funds intended to upgrade deprived schools, a judicial investigation has been toldheard.

Thirty businessmen and politicians, including a former Gaullist minister, Guy Drut, have been placed under formal examination for what judicial sources have described as the "robbery of the century". Four major parties were taking turns to claim kick-backs on school building and renovation contracts in the troubled inner suburbs of greater Paris, according to investigators.

The investigation comes at a time when political corruption is in the public spotlight because of the alleged French connection with the illegal funding of the German Christian Democrats. It coincides with growing public anxiety about violence in underfunded "sink" schools, especially in the Paris suburbs. And the allegations cover kick-backs on building contracts as recently as 1996 - long after the expiry of a supposed "amnesty" on the irregular funding of political parties - making the discovery triply embarrassing for all parties.

One of the 30 people placed under investigation told magistrates that the leading parties in local government in Ile-de-France organised a "turnstile" system. Large public works companies were guaranteed "turns" at contracts in a £280m secondary-school development programme, Jean-Philippe Huchard, an activist with the neo-Gaullist RPR, said.

In exchange, the companies payed systematic kick-backs of "2 to 3 per cent on each deal". This money was distributed to the political parties "according to the political colour of the mayor of the commune of the lycée concerned".

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