Jean-Pierre Jouyet: Pressure grows on top François Hollande advisor to quit over lunch date with former PM François Fillon

Talks ‘included Sarkozy’s alleged misuse of funds’

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The Independent Online

It is an extraordinary saga of personal hatred, lies and audiotape on the opposing side of the left-right political divide. And tonight, it left president François Hollande’s most senior adviser under increasing pressure to resign.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet – a personal friend of  President Hollande and his chief of staff at the Elysée Palace – has  accidentally embroiled himself in the vicious civil war for the leadership of the centre-right between ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and his former Prime Minister, François Fillon. Mr Fillon – who is, or was, a friend of Mr Jouyet – accuses him of “lying” about a private conversation that they had over lunch in June. A book published last week says that the former Prime Minister urged Mr Jouyet, and the Hollande administration, to accelerate a judicial investigation against Mr Sarkozy. “Strike quickly. If you don’t strike quickly, you’re  going to allow (Sarkozy) to return (to politics),” Mr Fillon was quoted as telling Mr Jouyet in the book by two Le Monde journalists.

Both Mr Jouyet and Mr Fillon initially denied that any conversation about Mr Sarkozy and his alleged misuse of centre-right party funds had taken place. They admitted that they had met over lunch, but said that they had discussed “other things”. On Sunday, Mr Jouyet was forced to back-track. The two investigative journalists who wrote the book, Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme, revealed in Le Monde that they had an audio recording of an interview in September in which Mr Jouyet says that Mr Fillon had urged the Elysée to accelerate a judicial investigation against his former boss.

Mr Jouyet then issued a statement which partially confirmed the allegations in the book. He admitted that at their lunch Mr Fillon had “raised the question” of  a possibly illegal decision by the main centre-right party to pay a €400,000 “fine” imposed on Mr Sarkozy. This penalty was imposed on the former president personally last year for smashing the legal spending ceiling in his 2012 presidential campaign. Mr Jouyet stopped short of saying that Mr Fillon had specifically urged him to intervene in the case, but he did say that the Elysée had decided to “do nothing”.

Mr Fillon then appeared on France’s top TV news programme and accused Mr Jouyet of “lying”. He said that the Hollande administration had “concocted” the whole affair to damage him and the main opposition party, UMP.

There is no evidence to support such an allegation, even though Le Figaro claimed on Sunday that the affair was a “state scandal”. President Hollande insists that he has abandoned the meddling in the judicial system which was common under previous presidencies. In any case, the UMP has been successfully tearing itself apart without any help from the Elysée.