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French minister quits over luxury lobster and fine wine dinners

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French minister quits over luxury lobster and fine wine dinners
Francois de Rugy, pictured wit his wife Sevrine, has resigned. Photo: AFP
15:42 CEST+02:00
The French minister at the centre of a scandal over the dinners he hosted with giant lobsters and €500-a-bottle wines has quit blaming a "media lynching".

Environment minister François de Rugy had been under fire over claims that the publicly-funded luxury dinners he hosted had little connection to his political work.

Only at the weekend he had vowed to resist pressure to quit and instead stay on as minister.

But on Tuesday he resigned blaming a "media lynching" that prevented him from now doing his job.

In a lengthy statement on his Facebook page, de Rugy wrote: "The attacks and media lynching have driven me today to take the necessary step - which everyone will understand.

"The attacks and media lynching targeting my family force me to take the necessary step back," said de Rugy, who also held the post of minister of state which made him the number two in government after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

"The effort required to defend my name means that I am not able to serenely and efficiently carry out my mission. I presented my resignation to the prime minister this morning," he added.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye then announced that the resignation had been accepted.

The investigative news site Mediapart website had said the minister in Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche party had hosted a dozen extravagant dinners from 2017-2018 when he the head of the French parliament.

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François de Rugy announced his resignation on his Facebook page

De Rugy did not deny hosting the dinners at his former residence, but vigorously rejected the claim they had been purely social events not linked to his job.

The dinners reportedly included champagne, giant lobsters and a €500 bottle of wine that had been signed by Prince Charles.

The pressure further mounted when he was accused of renting a subsidised council flat despite being on a higher salary than would be allowed, but on Friday he defiantly vowed that he would not resign.

He told French TV station BFMTV he has "never paid more than €30 for a bottle of wine", doesn't eat lobster because of a "shellfish allergy", and avoids champagne, which "gives him a headache".

But on Tuesday Mediapart's chief Edwy Plenel said the resignation had been triggered by new elements of website's investigation that accused de Rugy, a member of France's green group EELV, of spending his MP's allowance on paying his political party fees - something forbidden in the rules.

"We are doing our work in the public interest," said Plenel after the minister's resignation. Rugy plans to sue the investigative site Mediapart for defamation accusing it of a desire "to harm, smear and destroy."

The scandal had been embarrassing for French president Macron who since his election had been labelled a "president for the rich" and was accused of being out of touch with the concerns of ordinary French people.

De Rugy, who is from an aristocratic background, is a former environmental activist who joined Macron's party during his successful bid for the presidency in 2017.

He became ecology minister after the resignation of the high-profile figure Nicolas Hulot who quit the government after becoming frustrated with the government's lack of progress on green reforms.

 
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