Raffarin shields Chirac in Pinault row
PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Tuesday he was fully responsible for the rejection of a deal with US prosecutors that would have settled a legal row in the United States, in what appeared to be an attempt to take the heat off President Jacques Chirac.
Commentators and left-wing politicians have suggested that Chirac intervened to prevent an agreement last week with US legal authorities because the accord did not cover his friend, French billionaire Francois Pinault.
France rejected an out-of-court settlement that could have spared the government a costly trial in Los Angeles, where the formerly state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais stands accused of having illegally acquired failed California insurance company Exeuctive Life in 1993.
“It was I who took this decision,” Raffarin told the French General Assembly on Tuesday in a response to a question from a Socialiast deputy.
“I took it, I assume (responsibility) for it … and no one else … I am not afraid of the truth, I am not afraid of the law. If there must be a trial, there will be a trial.”
His spirited intervention came as Socialist deputies announced plans to call for the creation of a parliamentary commission to being “transparency” to bear on the Executive Life affair.
But the initiative appears to have little chance of success given opposition from majority lawmakers.
Credit Lyonnais is accused by federal prosecutors in the United States of having purchased Executive Life through shell companies in order to evade a US law at the time that barred banks and foreign governments from owning insurance firms.
Executive Life was eventually aquired by Artemis, a holding company controlled by Pinault, and renamed Aurora.
France on December 2 refused to come to terms with US legal authorities, thereby running the risk of a complex and potentially costly criminal trial, because the proposed agreement covered neither Pinault nor former Credit Lyonnais chairman Jean Peyrelevade.
Following that decision, opposition political figures have speculated that Chirac’s friendship with Pinault may have been a factor.
But the president last week denied having intervened personally to scuttle the agreement, insisting that his government’s “constant position” had been to “defend the financial interests of the state and the interests of French taxpayers.”
Subject: France news