France Forces Ministers to Show Financial Records

PARIS (AP) -- Tax Day generally passes unnoticed in France, but this year a major tax scandal involving a top member of government has made April 15 a day of reckoning for French political leaders as well.

In a bid to "moralize" politics after the embarrassing revelation that France's top tax collector was himself dodging the tax man, President Francois Hollande ordered his entire cabinet -- 38 ministers -- to disclose their financial records. The results were posted online Monday evening.

Among the disclosures were Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius' three properties, including a Paris apartment worth 2.75 million euros ($3.6 million), Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici's 17,368 euros in the stock market, and that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault drives a French Citroen and -- shock! -- a German Volkswagen.

Polls show a majority of the French approve of the government's transparency bid, but critics said it was a sideshow at best, and an infringement of privacy at worst.

Hollande set out the tough new rules of financial conduct for government officials last week. They require members of his Cabinet to publicly disclose the value of their assets, but will ultimately apply to all national lawmakers, as well as former presidents. One ex-president, Jacques Chirac, has been convicted of corruption. Another, Nicolas Sarkozy, faces allegations that he took envelopes stuffed with cash for campaign funding.

The latest move was deemed necessary after the shock revelation this month that Jerome Cahuzac, the former budget minister, had secret accounts worth hundreds of thousands of euros in Switzerland and Singapore and had lied repeatedly about them to the president, the parliament, and the prime minister. French authorities have filed preliminary charges against Cahuzac for alleged money laundering, and their counterparts in Switzerland are providing information on accounts there. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a 375,000-euro ($481,500) fine.

It's not clear whether the bid for financial transparency will help Hollande's approval rating, which at less than 30 percent is one of the lowest for a president in modern French history.

Surveys published over the weekend show most French would rather the cabinet focus less on baring its financial assets and more on fixing the stalled economy.

A full 70 percent of French in one recent poll accused the government of talking too much about scandals and too little about problems such as unemployment and incomes. The poll by Ifop and Atlantico.fr found majorities for this position across all social categories, even among supporters of the conservative opposition UMP party. It's been the UMP party whose leaders have raised the greatest hue and cry over the Cahuzac affair since it erupted with the minister's shock admission almost two weeks ago.

Perhaps the most worrying recent survey result shows that a majority of the French consider most politicians to be corrupt.

The mood was summed up by Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe, himself an ex-minister who was once convicted on a corruption charge. In a post on his blog, Juppe said Monday's disclosures were "nothing but voyeurism" that would have no impact on raising the ethical standards in French public life.


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