French FM rejects Africa book accusations

5th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Minister Bernard Kouchner denies having unethical ties to Africa; says he has never made use of his ministerial position for private gains.

PARIS – French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner took to the floor of parliament on Wednesday to angrily reject accusations in a highly critical new book that he had unethical ties to African regimes.

"At no moment in Gabon nor elsewhere did I make use of my ministerial functions" for private gain, he said, responding to a book by investigative journalist Pierre Pean titled "The World According to K."

Kouchner insisted that, while he had worked as a consultant for African governments before being appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, he always acted in "total transparency and total legality".

The book also accuses Kouchner of serving American interests and of glossing over alleged atrocities by US-allied groups in Rwanda and the Balkans.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon rushed to Kouchner's defence, saying in a statement that "nothing justifies a man's reputation being trampled like that following mere allegations".

Pean says Kouchner was paid huge sums by African leaders while acting as a consultant shortly before he returned to office in 2007, and argues that this constitutes a conflict of interest with his public role.

Kouchner firmly denies this and his lawyer said he would probably sue Pean.

"I was a consultant for a French firm. In three years of work I earned an average of EUR 6,000 per month after tax," the 69-year-old minister told the news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.

Two firms owned by aides of Kouchner billed Gabon and Congo EUR 4.6 million for reports the former Socialist health minister wrote on reforming their health insurance systems, the book says.

Pean claims some of the money was paid after Kouchner was named foreign minister on 18 May 2007, although he offers no proof that the chief diplomat abused his position to demand payment of a private debt.

Kouchner sees murky political motives behind the attacks on his reputation.

He told the Nouvel Observateur his critics were "those who are nostalgic for the 1930s and 40s and the revisionists, those of yesterday and those of today who are rewriting the history of the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsis."

Pean and some other French observers argue that Rwanda's Hutus have been unfairly blamed for the 1994 genocide, insisting that Tutsi rebel forces must share responsibility for the killings.

Outside France, most experts blame the Hutu-led government for instigating and directing the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Kouchner supports this version of events, and has tried to improve ties with the former Tutsi rebels who now rule Rwanda.

For Pean this position is a betrayal of France, which initially backed the Hutu government, and evidence of Kouchner's supposed alliance with Washington, which was seen as backing the rebellion.

The author sees the same logic in Kouchner's stance on the wars in former Yugoslavia, where Pean accuses him of blackening the name of the Serbs while ignoring abuses by US-backed Bosnians and ethnic Albanians.

Pean attacks Kouchner's "Anglo-Saxon cosmopolitanism," a phrase taken as alluding to the minister's partially Jewish ancestry. The term "rootless cosmopolitan" was used in Stalin's Soviet Union to smear Jews as unpatriotic.

The minister addressed that remark in his speech to parliament, saying that the book "accuses me of personifying the opposite of everything that France stands for, the anti-France, cosmopolitanism."

"The accusation of cosmopolitanism, in these difficult times, does that remind you of something?" he asked lawmakers.

Polls regularly rank Kouchner as France's most popular politician, with an approval rating of 71 percent in January. Outside France he is best known as a founder of the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders.

[AFP / Expatica]

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