Juppe in new row over subsidised Paris apartment

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The Independent Online
MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

The French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, found himself in more, potentially serious legal trouble over his privileged housing arrangements yesterday after it was disclosed he could have broken the law by signing the lease on his Paris flat while a deputy mayor of the city.

Elected council officials, it emerged, are specifically forbidden from obtaining council-owned accommodation while in office.

The new accusation came three days after a law official had found that Mr Juppe could have a case to answer in connection with a rent reduction he had authorised for his son's council-owned flat.

On both occasions, Mr Juppe was not only a deputy mayor of Paris but head of the town hall's finance department. President Jacques Chirac was Mayor of Paris at the time, but has been expressly exonerated of any connection with the affair.

On Monday, when the head of the central anti-corruption service, Bernard Challe, gave his advice about the case of the son's rent reduction, Mr Juppe dismissed the finding as "a petty political intrigue" and ministers mounted an orchestrated defence, saying that the anti-corruption office was biased because it had been set up by a Socialist government.

Yesterday's accusation will be harder to dismiss. While made by the same group of Socialist MPs and Paris ratepayers who sought the legal opinion on the matter of Laurent Juppe and his rent, it originates in the office of the Paris prosecutor. The ratepayers' group, having learned of the prosecutor's recommendation, has now applied to have the ruling made public and an investigation started.

Mr Juppe's flat, which is more than three times the size of an average Paris flat and in one of the most fashionable areas of the Latin Quarter, costs him about half the market rate. Before he moved in, it was also refurbished at a cost to the council of more than 1m francs (pounds 133,000).

The new allegations came the day after Mr Juppe had formally announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Gaullist RPR party, in a speech which made clear his intention of playing a significant role in national politics for years to come. The speech was calculated to cement Mr Juppe's claim to the party leadership and to establish himself as a national political figure in his own right.

Since he became Prime Minister four months ago, Mr Juppe has been criticised for appearing to be little more than Mr Chirac's mouthpiece. In Wednesday evening's speech, he dealt not just with domestic political and social issues, but also with foreign policy, which by tradition is the domain of the President.

In speaking of France's determination to join the single European currency "or else the European Union will dissolve" and the need to preserve the French-German special relationship at all costs, he also put some space between himself and Mr Chirac.

Mr Juppe, who has been acting president of the RPR since Mr Chirac resigned a year ago to contest the French presidency, is expected to be elected leader at the party convention in three weeks' time.

There was a recent flurry of opposition, however, when a number of MPs asked whether the RPR really needed a party president, given that a Gaullist was now at the Elysee.

They expressed the view, which was echoed in a strong editorial in Le Monde yesterday, that being Prime Minister, Mayor of Bordeaux and leader of a major political party was too much for one man.

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