To the outrage of the opposition and of many in the ruling Socialist party, Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, honoured a promise made last May to bring back Mr Tapie - less than a week after an examining magistrate grudgingly abandoned proceedings in the most threatening of the investigations. Mr Tapie was given the job of Minister for Towns, the post he held for seven weeks until a former business associate lodged a complaint against him.
But if Mr Beregovoy hoped to escape controversy by announcing the decision on Christmas Eve, with the newspapers off the streets and the nation absorbed by the festivities, he was mistaken.
Attacked by left and right, the decision to bring back the ebullient and controversial entreprenuer had all the signs of electoral opportunism. With National Assembly elections in March likely to bring a crushing defeat for the Socialists, the apparent logic was that the return of Mr Tapie, popular among the young, could restore Socialist fortunes. But the French electorate is plainly sick of political gimmickry and the tactic may already have backfired.
In Socialist ranks, Henri Emmanuelli, the president of the National Assembly, issued a communique distancing himself from the government which, he said, turned 'politicians into actors and citizens into spectators'. Another senior Socialist deputy, Francois Hollande, who is close to EC Commission president Jacques Delors, added: 'Putting Bernard Tapie in government last April was a mistake, as events showed. Naming him today is an offence.'
While most politicians have restricted themselves to a criticism of Mr Tapie's style - a populist, crude-talking approach which goes down well in the underprivileged urban areas that are his ministerial concern - there were other reasons not to restore him to office.
The complaint which led to the charges was laid by Georges Tranchant, a Gaullist deputy. The two men had been partners in Nippon Audio Video Systems, which had held the monopoly in France for distributing Toshiba products up to 1985. Mr Tranchant said that Mr Tapie had not disclosed a commission of 13m francs ( pounds 1.5m) he had received.
Mr Tranchant withdrew his complaint last month after the two men arrived at an undisclosed settlement. Edith Boizette, the examining magistrate, in a report explaining why she was dropping charges, said she had done so only because the original complaint had been withdrawn, and not because she considered there had been no offence.
Mr Tapie's management of Olympique Marseille, of which he is president, is under scrutiny. Last year, a prosecutor recommended that he be charged for under-the- table payments to players. So far, no action has been taken. The Paris Bourse is looking into the circumstances of the sale of shares he owned in the TF1 television channel.Reuse content