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France’s Macron faces possible legal woes over election consultants

French President Emmanuel Macron faces possible legal problems after prosecutors announced Thursday they were investigating the use of management consulting firms during national elections in 2017 and 2022.

France's Macron faces possible legal woes over election consultants
(Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Although a statement from the National Financial Prosecutors’ Office did not name Macron’s campaign specifically, his election team is thought to be
the main target of two separate probes.

The use of consultants came under the spotlight in March following an investigation by the French Senate, which concluded that public spending on
them had more than doubled from 2018-2021 during Macron’s first term in office.

Total outlays reached more than a €1 billion  last year, a figure frequently cited by Macron’s opponents during his successful bid for a second term this April.

Investigative news website Mediapart has reported that consultants from the US-based McKinsey group worked for free on Macron’s campaign in 2017.

His office said, “it was up the justice system to complete these investigations in full independence”.

READ ALSO What is the ‘Affaire McKinsey’ and could it derail Macron’s re-election campaign?

The prosecutors’ office said that two probes had been underway since October into the use of consultants during the 2017 and 2022 elections.

They would look into charges relating to possible false election campaign accounting and underestimating campaign spending, as well as possible favouritism and conspiracy in favouritism.

France has strict rules on campaign financing that place limits on what a candidate is allowed to use.

For the 2022 presidential election, each candidate had a maximum of €16.8 million for the first round and €22.5 million for the second.

Several French politicians have been convicted over the years for overspending or attempting to disguise campaign spending, including late former president Jacques Chirac.

Fellow rightwing ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy received a one-year prison sentence in September last year for illegal financing of his 2012 re-election
bid. Judges concluded that Sarkozy had spent nearly twice the legal limit on his failed bid for a second term.

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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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