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Economy

Le Pen adviser set up disgraced minister's Swiss account

media Clean hands? Front National leader Marine Le Pen Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was on the defensive Thursday acter one of her advisers admitted setting up the Swiss bank account that led to the downfall of French budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac. And one of Cahzac’s friends says the former minister has considered suicide.

Le Pen, who called for the government to resign and parliament to be dissolved on Wednesday, on Thursday denounced a “political manoeuvre” after Le Monde newspaper revealed tax lawyer Philippe Peninque travelled to Geneva in 1992 to set up a UBS account for Cahuzac.

As Cahuzac’s former comrades continued to slam his “betrayal”, one Socialist MP, Dominique Lefebvre, still admitted being his friend.

The former minister had thought of suicide, Lefebvre told RTL radio.

“He hasn’t stopped asking his friends to forgive him,” he said. “He was having difficulty keeping upright on his own.”

The former budget minister was charged with tax avoidance on Tuesday after admitting that he had opened the account and transferred it to Singapore in 2009.

Dossier: The Cahuzac affair

Peninque is one of Le Pen’s stable of advisers and audited the books of her party, the Front National, in 2007.

As a student he was a leader of the far-right student group Gud, known for its physical confrontations with far-left activists in the 1970s, and who later became friendly with Cahuzac, then a practising plastic surgeon in south-west France.

They met through Jean-Pierre Eymié, a cousin of Cahuzac’s ex-wife, Isabelle, who had also been a Gud member and had earned the nickname "Johnny the Boxer" in far-right circles.

“Jérôme Cahuzac needed an account. I helped him open it,” Peninque told Le Monde, but he denied knowing that its purpose was tax evasion, claiming that the minister wanted a “more glamorous” address to impress possible clients in Italy, Spain and even the Middle East.

And he said that he had told Le Pen that “as part of my professional activity I had perhaps opened this account”.

After at first dismissing the story as “anodine”, Le Pen on Thursday accused Le Monde of “political manipulation” and trying to sully her name.

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