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Former French budget minister admits to Swiss bank account


Former French budget minister Jerome Cahuzac.



BRUSSELS, Belgium — Former French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac admitted on April 3 to maintaining a Swiss bank account for more than 20 years.

The hypocritical admission from the former tax crusader may have hard political implications for President Francois Hollande's "war on tax evasion."

The 60-year-old Cahuzac had been seen as a key part Hollande's drive to ensure France's wealthy shared the burden of the country's economic difficulties through high taxes and a crack down on evasion.

Two weeks ago, however, he resigned from the Socialist government amid tax fraud allegations, which he initially denied.

The former minister admitted on April 3 to holding around 600,000 euros ($770,000) in the overseas account for decades.

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"I met the two judges [leading the case] today. I confirmed the existence of this account and informed them that I had already given the necessary orders so that the funds on this account — around 600,000 euros [$770,000] — be repatriated to my account in Paris," Cahuzac said in a statement, writes the Telegraph, and added that he is begging for forgiveness for his transgressions. 

"He deceived the highest authorities in the country: the head of state, the head of the government, parliament, and through them all the French people," Hollande said of the incident, according to AFP.

GlobalPost senior correspondent in Europe, Paul Ames, called Cahuzac's admission a "serious blow to the already deeply unpopular administration of President Francois Hollande."

It's a huge embarrassment to the government and has forced Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici to deny "any complicity" in Cahuzac's attempted cover up.

Some question whether Hollande was aware of Cahuzac's hypocrisy, writes AFP, casting doubt on the president's handling of the situation.

Hollande has come out swinging against tax evasion since he took office, instituting a largely symbolic 75 percent tax on top earners and refusing to back down after Gerard Depardieu publicly opposed the measure.

GlobalPost's Ames says the scandal will fuel wider public disillusionment with mainstream politicians and is likely, therefore to benefit parties on the political extremes.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, demanded the government's resignation, claiming Hollande and leading members of his Socialist administration must have been aware of Cahuzac's deceit.

"I don't rejoice in the misfortunes of democracy," Le Pen told reporters Wednesday. "But should we let the people have the last word? How long can can we support this level of distrust in the government."

The far left was also quick to denounce the mainstream political "caste."

"Where does this chain of lies end?" said a statement from Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Front. "This has revealed a world of liars, of tax evaders and cynics. Get me a broom!"

France's main center-right opposition is also embroiled in accusations of financial shenanigans.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation on March 21 on suspicion of exploiting the mental frailty of France's richest woman - 90-year-old L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt - to extract thousands of euros to finance election campaigns.

Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels.