Meet the scourge of France's political crooks

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Dan MacGuill - [email protected]
Meet the scourge of France's political crooks
Edwy Plenel, pictured in Paris in 2012. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

For 30 years he's been France's muck-raking journalist par excellence, and this week his investigative news site caused one of the most spectacular political downfalls in recent French history. Edwy Plenel is our French Face of the Week.


Who is Edwy Plenel?

Edwy Plenel is a 60-year-old political journalist, former editor-in-chief of French daily Le Monde, and a co-founder of the investigative news website Mediapart.

Why is he in the news?

Earlier this week, his website Mediapart played the key role in one of the most spectacular falls from grace of any French politician in recent French history, and bear in mind there have been a few.

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Former French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac was charged on Tuesday with “laundering the proceeds of tax evasion,” after admitting he had held a foreign bank account for 20 years, until 2010.

The court based the charges on secret audio recordings procured by Mediapart, and partly published by them in December, which appear to feature Cahuzac speaking with his financial advisor about moving money from a secret Swiss bank account to one based in Singapore.

Until his mea culpa this week, Cahuzac strenuously denied the allegations, which over the last few months he described as everything from "slanderous" to "delirious" to "crazy". He said at one point that the scandal would end in either his downfall or that of Plenel and his website. He proved himself right. Plenel and his journalists held firm and Cahuzac fell.

Where did he come from?

Well, Plenel has been around the block in terms of French politics and journalism. After a decade as a communist activist and journalist, he started writing with France’s main left-leaning daily Le Monde in 1980.

He had a real knack for getting under the skin of the state in his investigative work, and was directly involved in two of the biggest scandals of the 1980s. Firstly, there was the framing of three Irish nationals by a covert anti-terrorism cell in 1982, for a shocking anti-Semitic grenade and gun attack on a restaurant in Paris.

While investigating corruption and evidence-planting by the secret cell (which reported directly to then President François Mitterand), Plenel had his phone tapped for an extended period of time.

Then, in 1985, French secret service agents were exposed for deliberately sinking Greenpeace's flagship boat the Rainbow Warrior, which had been planning to oppose French nuclear tests off the coast of New Zealand.

Due in large part to Plenel’s muck-raking, it was revealed that orders for the shocking sabotage – which killed a Dutch-Portuguese photographer – came from the very highest echelons of the French government.

The scandal resulted in the resignation of France’s Defence Minister Charles Hernu.

After that Plenel rose through the ranks at Le Monde, serving as editor-in-chief from 2000 to 2004, when he left the paper after a falling out with new owner Jean-Marie Colombani.

Has he helped unearth any other big scandals?

Indeed. In June 2010, the website – which has a leftist orientation – got hold of secretly taped conversations between L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt’s former accountant, Claire Thibout, where she alleged former Budget Minister Eric Woerth had illegally received funding from France’s richest woman for Nicolas Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential campaign.

Mediapart, an online-only web start-up that users must pay to access, gained worldwide renown almost overnight, and its subscriptions exploded in the wake of the Bettencourt revelations.

Almost a dozen people have since been charged in relation to the scandal which went stratospheric last month, when former president Sarkozy himself was charged with taking financial advantage of the ailing Bettencourt, who suffers from dementia.

What do others say about him?

“Edwy is the Robin Hood of information,” said Mediapart journalist Henry Moreigne in 2012.

What does he have to say for himself?

“Either we overthrow the machine, or the machine will swallow us,” Plenel told French magazine l’Impossible in 2012.

See also: All our previous French Faces of the Week 



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