Sunday 26/05/2019 - 09:24 pm

French interior minister quits over holiday jobs for his daughters

2017.03.21 10:08

The French interior minister has been forced to resign in a row over employing his teenage daughters as parliamentary assistants during the school holidays, in another blow to the country’s beleaguered political elite with one month to go until the first round of presidential elections.

Bruno Le Roux stood down hours after the financial prosecutor’s office announced they were putting him under preliminary investigation. He had offered his resignation earlier in the day to the president, François Hollande, who accepted it.

The scandal broke a week after presidential candidate François Fillon was mise-en-examen – the French equivalent of being charged – over allegations he paid family members from public funds for “fake” jobs.

Le Roux, 51, has admitted he paid his daughters, now aged 20 and 23, €55,000 (£48,000) of public money over seven years. They were given 24 short-term contracts, known as CDDs, between 2009 and 2016 while he sat in the national assembly.

French parliamentarians are allowed to employ relatives if the jobs are real and work is actually done. Le Roux says his daughters’ roles filled these requirements.

The sums involved in Le Roux’s case are considerably less than hundreds of thousands of euros that Fillon, who has denied wrongdoing, is alleged to have paid his British-born wife Penelope and children over more than a decade. Nevertheless, this latest jobs-for-the-family scandal is deeply embarrassing for the Socialist government in the runup to leadership and legislative elections.

At the height of the Fillon scandal in February, Le Roux was one of the first to call for greater transparency in French political life.

Le Roux’s resignation, even before judges have decided if there is a case to answer, is a damage limitation move by Hollande in the face of public outrage at previous scandals.

Fillon, the candidate for the rightwing Les Republicains party, is also facing fresh allegations over an undeclared €50,000 loan and the gift of bespoke suits from a businessman friend, while far right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen is also under investigation for misusing public funds. She is accused of spending €300,000 of European parliament money to pay the salaries of FN party staff, including a personal bodyguard.

France elects a new president in a two-round process on 23 April and 7 May. The most likely scenario according to opinion polls is that Le Pen and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron will progress from the first round, and that Macron will win in the second.

In a brief statement on Tuesday evening, Le Roux insisted he had done nothing wrong. His daughters were employed on “specific and official contracts ... that corresponded to work done”, he said.

“This work was as important for me as it was educative for them,” he added. “I affirm my honesty on a human level and in all my political acts.”

Earlier in the day Le Roux rejected comparisons with the Fillon scandal. “Yes, my daughters worked with me, mainly during the summer or other school holidays, but never on a permanent basis,” he told the television programme Quotidien, broadcast on the TMC channel, which broke the story on Monday night.

“We’re talking about a summer job with a parliamentarian. When it’s a case of doing filing or a number of parliamentary tasks, I think it’s a good life experience.”

The eldest Le Roux daughter was 15 when she first worked for her father, for 12 days in 2009, it is claimed. The legal work age in France is 16, unless the person is employed by a parent.

However, Le Roux is under pressure to explain how the date of one contract, during the 2013 summer holidays, coincides with the time his daughter was doing work experience at the cosmetic company Yves Rocher in Belgium.

Le Roux, 51, was appointed interior minister last December, after Hollande reshuffled his government following Manuel Valls’s resignation as prime minister to concentrate on his presidential campaign, which ended in a primary vote defeat in January to Benoît Hamon.

On Tuesday morning, Le Roux cancelled an official engagement to inaugurate a national security and intelligence institute in Paris. The new interior minister was named on Tuesday afternoon as Matthias Fekl.

Luc Rouban, a political expert at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po, told 20 Minutes newspaper: “The problem with employing family members, even if it’s legal, even if it’s done in good conscience, is that it touches a very sensitive nerve: the confusing of public and private. There is a form of privilege that gives the impression of returning to the Ancien Régime [the system in France prior to the revolution], at a time of deep economic crisis and confusion in the country.”

Rouban added: “The high rate of unemployment makes the idea that some people can benefit from their position to get rich, even if it’s legal, seem even more intolerable.”

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