French ex-budget minister's tax fraud trial delayed

10th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

The tax fraud trial of France's disgraced former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac was adjourned Wednesday to September 5 after his defence challenged the constitutionality of the case.

The 63-year-old former rising star in the French Socialist Party, who stashed millions abroad while cracking down on tax cheats at home, had gone on trial Monday.

His ex-wife Patricia Menard, with whom he ran a lucrative hair transplant clinic, is a co-defendant in the case.

The defence on Monday argued that Cahuzac and Menard had already settled their tax debts and penalties and should not be tried twice over the same matter.

The court was told Menard had paid more than two million euros, although no figure was given for the ex-minister.

In the criminal trial, both face up to seven years in jail and two million euros ($2.2 million) in fines if found guilty of tax fraud and money laundering.

Court president Peimane Ghaleh-Marzban on Wednesday pointed to a recent precedent in a trial involving the Wildenstein art-dealing dynasty, accused of hiding hundreds of millions of euros in inheritance money from the taxman.

Lawyers in that case argued that carrying out a tax adjustment along with a criminal trial was unconstitutional and amounted to double jeopardy.

On January 6, the judge in the case ruled that France's highest court of appeals should decide whether to refer the question to the constitutional court.

Early last year, the constitutional court quashed another case against the managers of the Airbus group EADS over insider trading on the grounds that financial market regulators had already examined it.

The Cahuzac scandal was the first of a series that have tarnished the presidency of Francois Hollande, who had promised a squeaky-clean government after succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy, the subject of several graft investigations, in 2012.

To begin with, Cahuzac vehemently denied the allegations, notably before parliament and to Hollande, after the Mediapart news website broke the story in December 2012.

Cahuzac, whose remit included fighting tax fraud, lodged a defamation suit against Mediapart.

But the trained surgeon resigned his post after a formal investigation was launched in March 2013.

Two weeks later, he confessed to having held an account with Swiss banking giant UBS and said he was "consumed by remorse".

© 2016 AFP

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