|French Ministers Disclose Personal Wealth for First Time|
French ministers disclosed their financial assets publicly on Monday in accordance with the April 15 deadline set by President François Hollande as he seeks to restore public confidence in the wake of a high-profile tax evasion scandal that led to the resignation of his budget minister.
Former budget chief Jérôme Cahuzac, once the man responsible for fighting tax evasion, was charged with tax fraud earlier this month when he admitted to having an undeclared Swiss bank account containing an estimated €600,000.
The assets of more than three dozen ministers, including Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, appeared on the French government’s website.
According to the revelations, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is among the wealthiest - owning three properties worth a total of 3.9 million euros ($5.1 million) - while Ayrault has two houses and a garage.
An IFOP poll released showed 63% of respondents support the disclosure of assets, with 70% saying they would not be surprised to discover that many ministers have a high net worth.
A private matter
There was some apprehension, however, that the move could backfire with the French public by revealing the riches held by elites to a country struggling with high unemployment and a stagnant economy.
Unlike in the United States, where politicians often publish their tax returns, the wealth of public officials has long been considered private in France.
Lawmakers on both the right and left have criticised the move, and the government expects to encounter resistance when it tries to extend the disclosure rule to parliamentarians in a law set for review on April 24.
Former Prime Minister François Fillon of the right-wing UMP party denounced the measure on Sunday as “useless”, adding: "This would have in no way prevented the Cahuzac scandal."
The head of the Socialists in the lower house National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, has said the move amounts to "voyeurism".
Close scrutiny is expected to fall on several ministers already suspected of having significant wealth, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
One member of the government, Health and Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine, said before Monday's revelations that she owns about €1.4 million in assets, mostly properties she owns in Paris.
Others made more modest declarations, including Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, who said she owns her 70-square-metre (750-square-foot) flat in Paris and, jokingly, a David Beckham T-shirt.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon publicly mocked the exercise, releasing a long declaration detailing his height and weight, his shirt, trouser and shoe sizes, and the assertion that his hair is its natural color.
The declarations are part of a package of reforms put forward by President Hollande that includes a crackdown on foreign tax havens and a new independent authority to monitor the assets of politicians and senior officials, as well as potential conflicts of interest. A new special prosecutors' office will also target tax fraud and corruption.
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Published on our website on April 22, 2013