Advisor's hand-made shoes give Hollande a new headache

18th April 2014, Comments 0 comments

Beleaguered French President Francois Hollande was under pressure Friday to fire one of his closest aides following revelations about his extravagant lifestyle and an alleged conflict of interest.

Aquilino Morelle, the head of Hollande's PR operation, maintains a collection of 30 pairs of hand-made shoes at the presidential Elysee Palace which are professionally polished every two months, investigative website Mediapart reported.

The advisor's taste for the best things in life also reportedly led to him regularly raiding the Elysee's celebrated wine cellar for fine vintages to accompany working lunches.

Morelle has not contested the accuracy of the shoes revelation and has also confirmed Mediapart's claim that the two chauffeurs at his disposal were sometimes tasked with picking up his son from school, citing his "extremely busy schedule".

The advisor denied Mediapart's more serious allegation that he had breached ethical guidelines for public servants by doing work for pharmaceutical companies in 2007 while he was a senior official in the ministry for social affairs.

"At no point was I in a situation of a conflict of interest," Morelle wrote on his Facebook page in response to Mediapart's report. "As a civil servant, there are a certain number of outside activities which are permitted by the law, including education and advice."

However, the relevant rules governing such activities require authorisation and the department Morelle worked for said Friday that it could find no trace of any such authorisation in his case.

Regardless of whether Morelle acted inappropriately in his previous role, the revelations about his refined taste in footwear are deeply embarrassing for Hollande, who is struggling with the worst approval ratings of any French leader in modern times.

Following his 2012 election, Hollande vowed that he would run a government that was, ethically, beyond reproach. But that ambition was dealt a major blow last year when he was forced to sack Jerome Cahuzac after it was revealed that the then-budget minister, whose responsibilities included combatting tax evasion, had a secret Swiss bank account.

Media commentators suggested Friday it was no coincidence that the revelations about Morelle had emerged in a week that has seen the ruling Socialist Party hit by divisions over new Prime Minister Manuel Valls's announcement of 50 billion euros ($69 billion) of cuts in state spending over the next three years.

The inclusion in the programme of a freeze on a wide range of welfare benefits has infuriated the party's left-wing and some deputies are threatening to vote against the government when the first legislation related to the cuts programme comes before parliament on April 30.

Morelle is seen as an influential backer of the centrist Valls and is reported to have lobbied Hollande to promote the popular former interior minister following the stinging losses suffered by the Socialists in municipal elections last month.

© 2014 AFP

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