French opposition leader tied to money scandal

The head of France’s opposition party was pushing back hard on Thursday against charges of financial irregularities regarding €8 million in party spending during the 2012 election.

French opposition leader tied to money scandal
French conservative party leader Jean-François Copé faces questions over spending irregularities. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

A report from French magazine Le Point alleges two former underlings of conservative UMP party leader Jean-François Copé, grossly overcharged the party for setting up rallies and other services.

It raises questions over whether Copé steered over €8 million in communications contracts to the close associates and their agency Event & Cie during former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed bid to hold onto the presidency in 2012.

Copé then turned around and raised €11 million from faithful conservative supporters to replenish the party’s depleted coffers.

On Thursday Copé promised to file a defamation lawsuit against the magazine and the two reporters who penned the exposé.

“It’s appalling,” Copé told i-Télé Thursday. “It’s a total set up of the most ignoble sort. There is only one way to respond, and it’s in the court.”

The agency at the center of the controversy allegedly double charged the party for services like catering, video projection or lighting at certain events it organized. Le Point says experts it spoke to believed the bills presented to the UMP were about 20 over standard rates.

The agency’s parent company Bygmalion was founded in 2008 by two former Copé aides. One, Bastien Millot, was Copé's chief of staff while serving as mayor in the Parisian suburb of Meaux. The second is Guy Alves also a former chief of staff, though he worked for Copé when he was Finance Minister.

Le Point notes that the upstart communication agency embarked on a period of lightening growth after its founding. Between 2010 and 2012 it had €4.5 million in the bank will the UMP was €40 million in debt.

The article also raised questions about a third person behind Bygmalion who has also allegedly benefited from ties to Copé. The man, Emmanuel Limido, apparently served as the intermediary for a sale of some prime French government real estate.  

Copé was recently at the heart of another scandal, though that one was more closely tied to the conservative values of his party. During an interview earlier this month he railed against a children's book that sought to help kids overcome the stigma of accepting their bodies. 

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Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

If you're researching the French property market, you might have come across mentions of 'courtiers' - here's what they do and whether they are necessary.

Courtier: Should you hire a broker when buying property in France?

The French ‘courtier‘ is usually translated as a broker, and the Notaires Association describes their role like this: “the broker is a true intermediary in banking operations. His/her role is to negotiate the best rates for you, but not only that: they will also find the most advantageous financing conditions for the realisation of your project.”

Essentially they act as an intermediary between you and the banks, so they’re only required if you need a mortgage or a loan in order to buy your French property. 

Their job is to research the best deals for you and then to help you put together your application and ensure that all your paperwork is correct – unlike the notaire, instructing a courtier is not a required part of the process, so the decision on whether to instruct one is up to you. 

So is it worth it?

Among French buyers, around 30 percent of mortgages are obtained using the services of a courtier, and this rises to 60 percent among young, first-time buyers, who generally find it harder to access credit.

Some of things to consider are your level of French and confidence in negotiating French bureaucracy, your financial situation (since French mortgage lenders tend to be stricter than those in the UK or US) and whether you currently live in France or not (since there are extra hoops to jump through for overseas buyers).

READ ALSO Is now a good time to buy a home in France?

“Things have changed,” Trevor Leggett, group president of Leggett International estate agents, told The Local. “It’s now more important than ever to work closely with a reputable broker.

“In France it is all paper-based, very old-school and extremely bureaucratic, a different world entirely to the UK. Preparing the client “dossier” so that it will be accepted is an art form.”

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France can you buy property for less than €100k?

He advised non-resident international clients, particularly, who may not be au fait with the French system to seek the help of a broker who knows the ropes.

“The question is no longer really about savings,” he said. “It is about finding a bank that can actually lend to the client profile, interests rate are secondary. 

“It occasionally happens that one bank can be played off against another, or to shop around, but it’s a rare event nowadays.”

READ ALSO Revealed: The ‘hidden’ extra costs when buying property in France

And he had no hesitation in recommending that prospective buyers find a broker to sort out the financing.

“The lending market has tightened for international buyers and a good one is worth their weight in gold,” he said.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Time-frame for buying and selling property in France

In France, you make an offer on a property and then you begin the mortgage process (while in the UK it’s the other way round) so problems in getting your mortgage approved could lead to you losing your dream property.

“[Using a courtier] can be the difference between buying and not,” added Trevor.

“It’s not just any possible language barrier – but understanding the process and the different players in the market.”

How much?

The cost of hiring a courtier is borne by the buyer – but how much do they charge?

The courtier usually charges a percentage of the total mortgage amount – fees must be fixed in advance and are only payable once your mortgage application has been approved. 

Fees vary between different areas and different businesses, but the average fee is €2,000, which amounts to around one percent of the purchase price.

Many brokers set a minimum amount – around €1,500 – for smaller loans, and take a percentage of larger loans, so how much you pay depends on your property budget.