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France

Former budget minister Cahuzac’s tax fraud trial begins

media Jérôme Cahuzac, face à la commission d'enquête, ce 23 juillet. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Former French budget minister Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned in disgrace in 2013 after admitting to having a secret Swiss bank account, goes on trial Monday for tax fraud. The 63-year-old faces up to seven years in jail and two million euros in fines if found guilty.

The Cahuzac scandal was the first of a series that have tarnished the presidency of Francois Hollande, who had promised a squeaky clean government after succeeding Nicholas Sarkozy, the subject of several graft investigations, in May 2012.

A media scrum is expected to descend on the court for the start of the trial, even if an opening defence gambit may prompt a delay of several months.

The spectacular scandal saw Hollande initially backing Cahuzac's vehement denials after the Mediapart news website first broke the story in December 2012, posting a compromising audio recording.
Cahuzac -- whose remit had included cracking down on tax fraud -- promptly lodged a defamation suit against Mediapart.

But the trained surgeon, still protesting his innocence, resigned his post after a formal investigation was launched in March 2013.

Two weeks later, he dramatically confessed to having held the account with Swiss banking giant UBS and said he was "consumed by remorse".

Cahuzac was immediately hounded by the media, telling a newspaper he had to move "every two days" to escape the glare.

The scandal prompted Hollande to order his ministers to disclose their personal wealth, a first in France, where personal finances are rarely discussed and the wealth of public officials had long been considered a private matter.

Prosecutors described the tax fraud as "determined" and "sophisticated" as well as a "family affair" including Cazuhac's now ex-wife Patricia Menard, a dermatologist who is a co-defendant in the case.

Also in the dock are their advisers, Swiss banker Francois Reyl and Dubai-based lawyer Philippe Houman.

The Reyl bank of Geneva, which in 2009 allegedly helped Cahuzac transfer funds to Singapore to avoid detection by French tax authorities, is also being tried.
 

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