Verdict due for disgraced French minister Cahuzac

Cahuzac Hollande

Cahuzac Hollande

A Paris court is due to return a highly anticipated verdict Thursday morning in one of the biggest – and most embarrassing – political scandals of French President François Hollande’s term.

Hollande’s former budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, is charged with tax fraud and money laundering for allegedly hiding his wealth in tax havens around the world.

Prosecutors have asked the court to convict and sentence him on Thursday to three years in prison.

Cahuzac and his ex-wife have acknowledged owning illegal foreign bank accounts for two decades. They have already paid 2.3 million euros ($2.5 million) in back taxes to French authorities.

A plastic surgeon by profession, Cahuzac, 64, was forced to quit France’s Socialist government in March 2013.

“You have tarnished this country’s honour,” Prosecutor Eliane Houlette said during his September trial. “What has not been repaired, and will never be, is the harm done to our country, which became a laughing stock.”

She also asked for a five-year ban on the disgraced former minister seeking elected office, adding that Cahuzac had “betrayed every oath he took”.

Led tax evasion effort

The Cahuzac scandal hit Hollande’s administration in its first year, with the French public all the more outraged as he was leading the government’s much-publicised fight against tax evasion at the time. The ex-minister also strenuously denied any wrongdoing when the story first broke.

When press reports first revealed the scandal in December 2012, Cahuzac was in fact sponsoring a bill in parliament to reinforce the fight against tax fraud.

Challenged about the allegations, he stood up in front of lawmakers declaring: “I do not have and never had a foreign bank account, neither now nor before.”

Cahuzac eventually cracked and admitted to the fraud four months later, saying he had indeed placed 600,000 euros ($667,000) abroad and had been “trapped in a lying spiral”.

Soon after, judicial investigators unearthed an account opened at Swiss bank UBS in the early 1990s that was later transferred to Singapore under the codename “Birdie”.

Cahuzac wept in the dock at his trial as he hinted he had considered taking his own life rather than admit to lying and denied reports that Hollande had asked him in a one-to-one meeting whether he held a foreign account.

‘Never lied to the president’s face’

“This question, ‘Do you or do you not have a bank account?’, I was not asked that during that meeting, so if I lied, it was by omission,” he said. “Unlike what was said, I never lied to the president’s face.”

The former minister, who also ran a lucrative hair transplant business that catered to France’s elite, told the court that he had stashed millions abroad because he wanted to maintain his family’s standard of living.

“I did not accept that my political responsibilities should lead to a fall in my family’s standard of living,” he said, adding: “My wife did not accept, or had a lot of difficulty accepting, that I could not cover half of the family’s expenditure.”

Prosecutor Houlette also sought a two-year jail term for Cahuzac’s ex-wife Patricia Ménard, claiming she had “surpassed” him in “hiding assets from the taxman”.

She is accused of hiding 2.5 million euros from French tax authorities and laundering money in the British tax haven of the Isle of Man and in Switzerland, allowing her to buy two London apartments estimated at around 3 million euros overall.