Rising pressure on Gaymard to quit over flat fracas

24th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 24 (AFP) - French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard faced growing pressure to resign Thursday after being openly accused of lying in a row over his state-paid Paris apartment.

PARIS, Feb 24 (AFP) - French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard faced growing pressure to resign Thursday after being openly accused of lying in a row over his state-paid Paris apartment.

The 44-year old minister - a loyal protege of President Jacques Chirac - was being formally backed by cabinet colleagues, but privately many conceded that the week-long scandal over his living arrangements has gravely damaged the centre-right government.

On Wednesday the satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine carried new revelations in the affair, which it exposed a week before with a report that Gaymard was living in a luxury 600 square-metre (6,400 square-foot) flat off the Champs Elysees at a cost to the public purse of EUR 14,000 (USD 18,500) a month.

Gaymard - who has a wife and eight children - promptly moved out of the apartment into smaller accommodation at his ministry, as Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin sought to limit the fallout with a promise of stricter guidelines over ministerial housing.

But the scandal burst open again with the news that the minister has from the start owned a 200 square-metre apartment (2,150 square-foot) in central Paris which he has been letting out for a rent of EUR 2,300 a month.

Gaymard's embarrassment deepened with an interview that appeared in Paris-Match magazine Thursday, in which he implied that as a man of humble origins he had no independent means to house his family.

"I have always lived humbly. I do not have money. Obviously if I wasn't the son of a shoemaker, if I was a member of the bourgeoisie, I wouldn't have any housing problem. I would own my own apartment and we wouldn't have this affair," he said.

"Does one have to be the son of a bourgeois or from a rich family in order to work in politics or be a minister?" he asked.

Increasingly confident that it has Gaymard on the run, the left-wing opposition launched a series of attacks Thursday and openly called for his resignation.

"Politically Herve Gaymard is no longer credible. We have a minister who has lied, and who has taken liberties with public money. They are two good enough reasons for resignation," said Noel Mamere, a leading member of the Green party.

"The president must answer the question: what can one do with a government that is so weak, so fragile, so damaged? He will not be able to avoid this question much longer," said Francois Hollande, secretary-general of the Socialist party.

The left-wing Liberation newspaper detailed what it described as the "lies, miscalculations and bad faith" in Gaymard's handling of the affair.

It accused the minister of dissembling when he claimed not to have been aware of the amount of rent to be paid on the luxury flat; of failing to reveal renovation work there worth more than EUR 30,000 carried out at state expense; and of hiding the fact that he possessed an apartment of his own.

Gaymard, who took over as finance minister in November, has promised to pay back the sum spent on the apartment, and told the conservative Le Figaro newspaper Thursday that he would not let himself "be pinned down like a butterfly when I am as clean as a new penny."

But supporters of the government conceded that the scandal has had a disastrous effect, at a time when it is official policy to cut state expenditure and when the difficulties of finding affordable accommodation are at the top of the public's concerns.

Raffarin said Thursday that Gaymard "should be given the chance to explain himself without facing harassment", as pressure mounted for the minister to step down.

Gaymard's office said the minister had cancelled a planned trip to his constituency in the French Alps on Friday.

The prime minister insisted there was no question of Gaymard resigning, as he had not broken any law. Government insiders said that Chirac - who has the last word on ministerial appointments - would be reluctant to abandon a man whose career he has nurtured for 15 years.

But the financial daily Les Echos spoke for many on the centre-right when it accused Gaymard of "shooting himself in the foot."

"If you keep telling people that they have to get over their addiction to public money, and if your job covers such painful issues as the explosion in rents and low incomes - then you must be totally cut off from reality not to see the damage from a state-paid apartment worth EUR 14,000 a month," it said.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the popular head of the ruling party who is widely seen as Chirac's main rival on the right, said that "the French, with their everyday difficulties, may well judge with a certain severity what has happened."


Subject: French News

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