• France's news in English

French opposition leader quits amid scandal

Joshua Melvin · 27 May 2014, 10:38

Published: 27 May 2014 10:38 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

France’s main opposition party, the UMP, was in crisis on Tuesday after damaging new revelations emerged surrounding a multi-million euro campaign spending scandal. 

The turbulence, coming days after embarrassing results in the European elections, led to party president Jean-François Copé announcing he would step down on June 15th. Reports also suggested the whole of the party leadership had agreed to quit.

The UMP will now be governed by three former prime ministers François Fillon, Alain Juppé and Jean-Pierre Raffarin until elections in October.

Copé had been under pressure to resign after serious claims that invoices for former president Nicolas Sarkozy's election campaign were illegally billed as party expenses.

Several UMP party heavyweights, including Sarkozy's former PM Fillon, demanded that Copé quit immediately over the latest twist in a corruption scandal embroiling Copé and a PR firm belonging to his associates.

The trouble stems from money for Sarkozy's campaign being routed through a communication agency called Bygmalion, which is run by two of Copé's close allies. 

On Monday Bygmalion’s lawyer Patrick Maisonneuve told reporters the agency was pressured to falsify Sarkozy's bills or risk not getting paid at all. He said the €10 million in invoices to the UMP were fake, but stemmed from actual work the agency had done for Sarkozy.

“There were bills that should not have been charged to the UMP. Services were provided,” Maisonneuve told reporters. “They are real, but they should have been charged to the campaign of presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.”

The ex-president's campaign had hit spending limits and thus opted to use an alternative means to pay its bills rather than cut back on expenditure, Sarkozy’s ex-deputy campaign director Jerome Lavrilleux told BFM TV on Monday.

“I never discussed this type of thing with Sarkozy or Copé. I accept my responsibility,” a teary Lavrilleux said. He added that the amount was around €11 million, but “there was no embezzlement, no cash payments” and “no personal gain.”

Jean-Baptiste Marteau co-author of a book about the UMP called "A Merciless Universe" told The Local on Tuesday that Copé's resignation was the only option to save the party.

"He took the only decision possible under the circumstances, to save the UMP party. It's completely impossible that he could have stayed. 

"The revelations came out this week were worse than we had imagined, so they had to take decisive action," Marteau said.

Last year the UMP's existence was threatened when France's constitutional court upheld a verdict that Sarkozy had surpassed spending limits for the 2012 election, meaning it lost its €10 million deposit.

Making an appeal on his Facebook page for donations to help save the party Sarkozy said: “This is an unprecedented situation in the Fifth Republic. It puts the political group, that must prepare the real and necessary alternative to socialism, in peril.

“This is not just about the UMP. This concerns anyone who is committed to pluralism."

As for the latest scandal Sarkozy, who has been implicated in several corruption affairs and denies any wrongdoing in any of them, is "very unhappy to see his name dragged into this strange affair," his close ally and former minister Brice Hortefeux said on Tuesday.

Sarkozy has faced accusations he attempted to pervert the course of justice and that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi financed part of his successful 2007 election campaign.

The funding revelations comes just days after the UMP was beaten at the polls for the first time ever by anti-immigration, anti-EU National Front party. It was seen as an embarrassing defeat for a party that is in disarray following a string of scandals.

As for the future of the UMP author Marteau says only time will tell if it can recover.

"They need to restore the confidence of the militants in the UMP. The good thing for them is that this comes three years before the next presidential election. If it had been six months then it would have been impossible to repair the damage," he says.

Story continues below…

As for whether Copé's resignation will harm or boost the chances of Sarkozy making a comeback, the author says it's too early to tell. 

"Sarkozy's entourage say he had nothing to do with this affair and that's he's furious. But at some point he will have to speak about it publicly. It appears the way is open for him.

"In terms of running for the presidency it seems only Alain Juppé, François Fillon or Nicolas Sarkozy have a chance of running in 2017," Marteau said.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available