Sarkozy son renounces top job after nepotism row

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President Sarkozy's 23-year-old son Jean, at the centre of a bitter row over alleged nepotism, on Thursday abandoned his bid for a job managing France's wealthiest business district.

"I will not go for the presidency" of the EPAD agency overseeing development in La Defense district west of Paris, where top French firms are headquartered, the second-year law student told France 2 television.

Jean Sarkozy, who said he would still seek election to the board running the area, slammed critics who he said waged a campaign of "manipulation and disinformation" against him.

The blond-haired fledgling politician, dubbed "Prince Jean" by the press, said he wanted to avoid a "tainted victory" and any "hint of favoritism."

His decision is a setback for his father, who had defended his son, even saying he had been "thrown to the wolves", despite concern among his own right wing supporters who feared a voter backlash.

Opposition Socialist party spokesman Benoit Hamon said Jean's decision showed that "the president of the republic has retreated under the pressure of the indignation of an immense majority of the French."

The row over Jean Sarkozy began just days after Sarkozy faced a major row over his culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, who was forced to defend himself on prime-time television over a book describing his sex tourist past.

Sarkozy junior is an elected councillor in Neuilly, the rich Paris suburb that catapulted his father to prominence 30 years ago, and he leads the right-wing majority in the Hauts-de-Seine regional council.

But his bid for the La Defense job drew howls of derision and protest across France and beyond. Le Monde, France's newspaper of record, said the attempt was the "act of a monarch."

The Socialists had formally urged the president "to abandon this disastrous project that has already made France a laughing stock among democracies."

Jean Sarkozy has risen from a little-known Sorbonne University student to a major player in his father's former fiefdom in less than two years. But he has always rejected suggestions his father was behind his meteoric rise.

An online petition launched by a local opposition leader calling on Sarkozy junior to withdraw his candidacy for the La Defense EPAD job quickly gathered thousands of signatures.

"Finish your law studies, gain experience in business and one day, perhaps, you can re-apply for a position once held by your father," said the petition launched by the centrist Democratic Movement.

A Twitter feed on the Internet drew hundreds of sarcastic comments suggesting, for instance, that Jean Sarkozy was now ripe to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general.

Former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius commented ironically: "Europe's biggest business district is in need of a strong legal mind. And Mister Sarkozy is a second year law student.

"That's a very, very strong factor."

Home to 2,500 head offices for such giants as Total and Societe Generale bank, La Defense employs more than 150,000 people in the complex of skyscrapers on the western edge of Paris.

The area is slated for expansion with the construction of the ultramodern Signal Tower designed by architect Jean Nouvel, while the government also wants to extend EPAD's remit to take in half of neighbouring communist-ruled Nanterre.

Jean Sarkozy last year married Jessica Sebaoun, heiress to the big electronics retailer company Darty. The couple are awaiting their first baby, a boy.

Sarkozy has an older brother, rap music producer Pierre, from his father's first marriage and a half-brother, 11-year-old Louis, from Sarkozy's second marriage to Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz, whom he divorced in 2007.


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