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France

French ministers resign amid perks scandal

media Christian Blanc (left), a junior minister tasked with overseeing the development of the greater Paris region and Development Minister Alain Joyandet (right). Reuters / Staff / File

Two government ministers have resigned after scandals involving the spending of public money on cigars and private jets made the headlines in France.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has accepted the resignation of Development Minister Alain Joyandet and Christian Blanc, a junior minister tasked with overseeing the development of the greater Paris region.

In March, Joyandet came under fire for spending 116,500 euros on a private jet to take him to the French island of Martinique for an international aid conference. Blanc made the headlines in June for charging 12,000 euros worth of Cuban cigars to his ministry’s budget.

Last Monday, Sarkozy ordered a crackdown on ministers spending, asking them to cut staff and use public transport as French people feel the pinch of the economic crisis.

“At a time when our compatriots are hit by the crisis, the state must more than show the example,” Sarkozy wrote in a letter to his prime minister, Francois Fillon.

On Sunday evening, a government spokesperson Luc Chatel said Sarkozy and Fillon had asked the ministers to leave.

The resignation of both ministers comes at a time when the government is trying to contain another larger scandal involving France’s richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, and the government’s Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

Secret recordings made by Bettencourt’s butler allege that the L'Oreal heiress was trying to evade tax by hiding money in Swiss bank accounts. At the time, Woerth’s wife Florence was managing investments for Bettencourt. Woerth has denied any involvement and his wife has since resigned and no longer works for the billionaire.

The scandals over perks and conflicts of interest come at a time when France’s rightwing government is ushering in an unpopular reform of pension schemes, spearheaded by Woerth.

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