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POLITICS

Ex-French PM ‘picks up €100,000 for a day’s work’

France's flamboyant former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was allowed by the government to return to work for one day in the country's diplomatic service after 20 years away, so he would qualify for a €100,000 retirement package, a media report claimed on Wednesday.

Ex-French PM 'picks up €100,000 for a day's work'
Former French PM Dominique de Villepin, who went back to work for one day to qualify for a €100,000 retirement windfall. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

France's Socialist government allowed conservative ex-prime minster Dominique de Villepin, 60, to return for one day's work in order to qualify for a €100,000 retirement windfall, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

Sources at the French foreign ministry told the paper that the charismatic former diplomat, who served as prime minister from 2005 until 2007 under the leadership of Jaques Chirac, returned to the diplomatic service – which he left in 2004 – in September for a day in order to receive the pay-off, equivalent to $138,500.

The British paper said it was unclear exactly what entitled Villepin to the payment and that "the exact details are shrouded in a French bureaucratic device called the 'career termination mechanism'."

The sources added that the move was likely approved by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and was not illegal. The ministry has so far not answered any questions about the pay-out.

According to the Daily Telegraph, officials are angry at the pay-off, which comes amid President Francois Hollande's unpopular austerity drive.

A spokesman for Villepin told the paper there had been an "administrative error which Mr Villepin has already asked to be rectified by the relevant authorities as soon as it was noticed", but did not explain what that error was, or whether the money had been returned.

A ministry spokesman added there had been "no discretionary or preferential treatment" for Villepin, who joined the diplomatic service after graduating from the elite French university ENA, where he studied with the President François Hollande.

Since his time as prime minister Villepin, who is most famous outside France for his 2003 speech at the UN against the Iraq war, has been on the fringes of mainstream politics.

He was an ardent critic of Nicolas Sarkozy and ran for president in the 2012 race as an alternative right wing option, before being forced to withdraw due to a lack of support.

Since then Villepin has headed his own international consulting firm, which pulled in a cool €1,676,900 last year, the Telegraph said.

French magazine L’Express valued his personal wealth at €4 million in 2012. 

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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