Tax returns of top French politicians go missing

8th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 8 (AFP) - A criminal investigation was underway in France Tuesday after the disappearance of tax returns filed by prominent public figures including the daughter of President Jacques Chirac and two former prime ministers.

PARIS, March 8 (AFP) - A criminal investigation was underway in France Tuesday after the disappearance of tax returns filed by prominent public figures including the daughter of President Jacques Chirac and two former prime ministers.

The former finance minister Herve Gaymard, who resigned ten days ago in a row over his official residence, was also among the five whose income declarations for the year 2003 went missing from a Paris tax office some time before early February, according to justice officials.

The others affected were Claude Chirac, who acts as an adviser to her father, former socialist prime ministers Laurent Fabius and Lionel Jospin, and the current European Affairs Minister in the centre-right government Claudie Haignere.

After conflicting reports about the number of missing documents, Budget Minister Jean-Francois Cope said at a press conference Tuesday that from a box containing seven forms, five had been completely removed and a sixth was missing an appended sheet.

According to L'Express magazine, which broke the story, the sixth person affected is the former socialist justice minister Robert Badinter.

The disappearance of the documents - revealed just after the Gaymard scandal and two years ahead of a presidential election - raised suspicions of a dirty tricks campaign being planned against some of the country's top politicians.

Officials at the tax office in the Latin Quarter of the capital were being questioned by anti-fraud police Tuesday, as investigators tried to establish when, and for what purpose, the files were removed.

According to the finance ministry, the disappearance of the forms was spotted on February 4, though they could have been taken long before.

Gaymard - who had been in his post since November - immediately launched an internal enquiry.

Following Gaymard's resignation on February 25, his successor Thierry Breton received the conclusions of the enquiry last week. On Saturday he filed a formal complaint at the Paris prosecutor's office, which then opened a preliminary criminal investigation.

But officials said it was unlikely the missing files were directly linked to the row that led to Gaymard's fall. This was because the documents only contained information concerning earned income and not personal wealth held in property, shares or bank accounts.

Gaymard stepped down on February 25 after the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine revealed that his family was housed at the state's expense in a lavish Paris apartment while he was at the same time drawing rent from another property in the capital.

The left-wing newspaper Liberation also reported that Gaymard - who has a wife and eight children - owns a house in Brittany, as well as two apartments, offices and a house in his home in the Alpine department of Savoie.

The information contained in the missing documents is replicated on computer files, so they are unlikely to have been taken with the aim of concealment, officials said.

L'Express reported that the declarations were taken from the offices of a committee that monitors the finances of politicians, but this was contradicted by officials, who said they were being stored in a special area reserved for personalities deemed to be "media-sensitive."

"They were not on shelves in public offices, but in boxes in the offices of the regional director to which ordinary tax inspectors have no access," said Vincent Drezet of the tax-collectors' union SNUI.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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