French President Francois Hollande’s cabinet has at least four millionaires, according to wealth statements the Socialist government ordered to tame public anger over a minister who hid an overseas bank account.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, son of an antique dealer, was among the richest in the 37-member group, with a net worth of about 6 million euros ($7.8 million). Michele Delaunay, a junior minister for the elderly, had a net worth of about 5 million euros, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Labor Minister Michel Sapin both declared wealth of more than 1 million euros, mostly on property holdings.
In one go, France has replaced one of the weakest reporting requirements in Europe with one of its more stringent. Ministers had until yesterday to make public their assets. Members of parliament, heads of local government, and heads of administrative bodies will follow once a law is passed later this year. The law will be presented to the cabinet April 24.
The requirement has divided France’s politicians, with even members of Hollande’s Socialist Party questioning the president and arguing that putting politicians’ lives on public display wasn’t the best way to deal with the fallout from former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac’s admission he’d had bank accounts in Switzerland and Singapore .
“The problems of Mr. Cahuzac should not lead to collective guilt,” Claude Bartolone, Socialist speaker of the lower house of parliament, said in an April 11 interview with Le Figaro. “I’m concerned about anything that could feed populism.”
Hollande, whose popularity is at a record low for a president not even a year into his term, announced a series of measures to “moralize politics” after Cahuzac’s April 2 admission that he’d been lying for months about a secret Swiss bank account first reported last December by an online newspaper.
Members of France’s parliament will also be limited in the sort of professional activities they can continue to carry out, with details to come later. Hollande said at an April 10 press conference that, for instance, a doctor would be able to continue to see patients, while not being allowed to advise pharmaceutical companies.
Until yesterday, France and Slovenia were the only countries in the European Union where members of parliament didn’t make any wealth declaration, according to Transparency International, which tracks anti-corruption initiatives.
Now, France leapfrogs countries such as Britain and Germany, where MP’s largely only disclose sources of income.
“Asset declaration is a powerful first step, but it has to fit into a wider structure of a verification and a working judicial system,” Craig Fagan, a senior policy manager at Transparency International in Berlin, said in telephone interview.
The U.S. is often considered a model because it demands an extensive range of information from cabinet candidates, Fagan said, while Latvia has one of the most effective set of rules in Europe because the asset declarations are part of a wider conflict-of-interest law.
Under the outlines of the law being prepared by Hollande’s government, a special commission will be set up to check the veracity of the declarations. Providing false information would be a criminal offense.
Sixty-three percent of the French approve of making politicians publish their wealth, while 36 percent are opposed, according to an Ifop poll published April 14 by Journal du Dimanche. Eighty-five percent said politicians are richer than the average, and 70 percent said they are “indifferent” to the wealth of their leaders. The poll questioned 974 people. No margin of error was given.
Some members of government, including Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg and Health Minister Marisol Touraine, had already disclosed their assets before yesterday.
Hollande divulged his wealth last May after his election. He said he was worth 1.2 million euros, mostly from a house in the south of France and two apartments in Cannes.
Mediapart, an online newspaper, in December released a recording of a 13-year-old phone conversation between Cahuzac and his wealth manager in which he mentioned an account in Switzerland, which was later transferred to Singapore.
After initially denying he ever had an overseas account, Cahuzac resigned from the government on March 19 when a formal legal investigation was opened. On April 2 he admitted he’d had 600,000 euros in a Swiss account.
Hollande has also stepped up efforts to crack down on the use of secret bank accounts in European Union countries such as Luxembourg and Austria, and is pushing efforts to have all EU countries share information on earnings and assets held by citizens in other countries.
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici declared a net worth of 238,500 euros linked to an apartment in Montbeillard, France.
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