The downfall of Jérôme Cahuzac: Cosmetic surgeon. Budget minister. Tax campaigner. National disgrace. The ugly face of Socialist France

Jérôme Cahuzac took an unusual route into politics – and an explosive route out. John Lichfield on the man whose spectacular hypocrisy shocked a nation that thought it was used to political scandal

Paris

Jérôme Cahuzac made a fortune as a cosmetic surgeon offering hair-transplants to the rich and famous. He just became the ugly face of Socialist France.

The “affaire Cahuzac” – a morality tale of divorce, lies and an audiotape on which he inadvertently bugged himself – threatens to discredit President François Hollande after only 11 months in office.

The French press spoke of “one of the most spectacular scandals of the Fifth Republic”. President Hollande, in a televised statement, spoke of an “outrage” committed against the French state and people.

For a banal case of tax evasion, this may seem excessive. But Mr Cahuzac, the minister in charge of tax enforcement until last month, has admitted to tax evasion, and hypocrisy, on an industrial scale. He has also admitted that he lied repeatedly to the President, to parliament and to the public.

Consider, also, the explosive context and timing.  Mr Hollande is struggling to resurrect the French economy and to impose higher taxes and unpleasant cuts. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of defrauding a feeble-minded billionairess. Voters are turning away from mainstream politics to the extreme right and left.

The affaire Cahuzac threatens to destroy what remains of Mr Hollande’s credibility and wreck his chances of leading France to recovery. He was elected last May promising an “irreproachable republic” after the scandals of the Chirac and Sarkozy years. At the very least it leaves him looking like a chump, first for appointing Mr Cahuzac and then for standing by him for so long. Opposition politicians are demanding a public inquiry. What did the President – and his ministers – know about Mr Cahuzac’s tax evasion? And when?

On Tuesday,  the doctor-turned-politician, 60, admitted that he had concealed part of his income in bank accounts abroad for more than two decades. After four months of lies, he confessed that he still had €600,000 (£509,000) in an account in Singapore.

The scandal bears resemblances to the Huhne-Price affair in Britain, but is far more damaging politically. Like Chris Huhne, Mr Cahuzac dismissed media allegations that he was  later forced to admit. Mr Cahuzac has claimed that the allegations flow from a vicious divorce from his wife – and former medical partner – Patricia Cahuzac.

For 15 years they ran one of France’s most lucrative medical practices, just off the Champs Elysées. Mr Cahuzac, a cardiologist turned cosmetic surgeon, and Ms Cahuzac, a dermatologist, offered micro hair-transplant surgery to actors, sportsmen and politicians. Mr Cahuzac also set up another business to help pharmaceutical companies to promote their wares. They were so successful that they bought a 200 sq m apartment on the Avenue Breteuil, one of the most select addresses on the Left Bank.

From 1997,  Jérôme Cahuzac began a second career as a moderate of the Left. He made himself one of France’s most respected experts on public finances. He was eloquent, polished  – and arrogant. Unlike many of his peers, he understood  figures. Why did a millionaire change careers? Mr Cahuzac is from the south-west where Socialism is the dominant political career path. Both his parents were Resistance heroes during the war and left-leaning afterwards.   

As chairman from 2011 of the national assembly’s  finance committee, Mr Cahuzac called for the taxation of wealthy, French expats. As budget minister from May last year, he led a crusade against tax evasion.

In early December, the investigative website Mediapart – also responsible for allegations against ex-President Sarkozy – dropped a bombshell. It said Mr Cahuzac had once held an illegal  bank account in Switzerland,  and now had one in Singapore. The tax campaigner was himself a tax cheat.

Mr Cahuzac dismissed the allegations as defamatory. In a meeting with President Holl- ande, he swore his innocence. He told the National Assembly that he had never concealed money abroad “not now. Not ever”.

Mediapart dropped a second bombshell. It placed on its site a muffled tape in which a politician – allegedly Mr Cahuzac – spoke of an undeclared account with UBS in Switzerland. Among other things, the voice said: “It’s a real bugger to have an account open over there… It’s not as if UBS is the most obscure of banks.”

That conversation was recorded at the end of 2000 just before Mr Cahuzac ran successfully for the mayorship of Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The site said that Mr Cahuzac had bugged himself, in bizarre circumstances. He failed properly to cut off a phone call to the town’s centre-right mayor, his future rival, Michel Gonelle. His following conversation, with a financial adviser, was accidentally recorded on the mayor’s answering machine.

The site refuses to reveal who gave it the tape. It is known to have been in the hands  of opponents  and a former tax inspector with a grudge against Mr Cahuzac. All deny being the source. Mr Gonelle yesterday  accused both right- and left-wing mainstream politicians of covering up Mr Cahuzac’s tax evasion for years. The Sarkozy government was aware of the tape in 2008, he said. The implication is that there are guilty tax consciences throughout the establishment.

For three months, Mr Cahuzac insisted that the voice on the tape was not his. Last month, a forensic report for the French state prosecutor  found that it “probably” was. President Hollande demanded Mr Cahuzac’s resignation. He stood down, still proclaiming his innocence.

If convicted of tax evasion, Mr Cahuzac could spend three years in jail. He also faces a potentially more serious accusation of taking under-the-counter payments from pharmaceutical companies while working as a doctor and an adviser in the health ministry.

President Hollande yesterday expelled Mr Cahuzac from the party and announced tough new measures  against corruption, including a ban from public life for any politician found guilty of tax evasion. In the febrile, post-Cahuzac mood of France, it is likely to be dismissed as cosmetic surgery. 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us