Ex-French minister says "lied to self" over Swiss bank account

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 16, 2013 3:07 PM
Ex-French minister says "lied to self" over Swiss bank account

By Nicholas Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - A former French minister who quit after admitting he had a secret foreign bank account appealed for forgiveness on Tuesday, saying on TV he had made a "crazy error", lied to himself for years and was unlikely to return to politics.

Jerome Cahuzac resigned last month after coming under investigation for tax fraud, admitting, despite weeks of ardent denials, that he had lied to colleagues about having a Swiss bank account which held some 600,000 euros ($787,800).

In his first TV appearance since resigning as minister in charge of cracking down on tax fraud, Cahuzac repeatedly asked colleagues and friends for forgiveness and said he had hidden his "dark side" to all around him - even to himself.

"I lied to myself for years," Cahuzac told news channel BFM in a slow, steady voice. "I had a dark side, and now that dark side is plain for all to see."

The minister added he was resigning as a member of parliament and would let voters in his home constituency in the southwest decide whether he should return to politics.

Cahuzac's fall shook President Francois Hollande who responded by publishing the assets owned by all ministers in his Socialist government, a bid to demonstrate transparency which risked further publicizing the private wealth of his team.

Hollande and his finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, have repeatedly denied having any previous knowledge, and Cahuzac said that he had lied to both about his account.

Asked if Hollande knew about it, Cahuzac said: "I do not know how much he knew about this affair."

A gastric surgeon and hair implant specialist by trade who entered politics late in life, Cahuzac was the public face of France's budget-cutting drive with a reputation for a ruthless approach to cost reduction.

News that he had lied unleashed a torrent of condemnation, with one minister known to be a friend saying he could no longer socialize with Cahuzac. French media reported that he had to sleep in a car after being turned away from a friend's house.

Cahuzac said the money he kept abroad came from work as a doctor, without providing details, and denied rumors he may have accounts in Singapore containing up to 15 million euros.

"I made a crazy mistake, a crazy mistake twenty years ago," he said of his decision to place money in Switzerland. "I hid it so that I didn't even know it was there, I was lying to myself."

Cahuzac repeated that he regretted his mistake deeply, understood the anger against him, and was afraid of going to prison if found guilty of tax fraud. A judge is investigating and Cahuzac has not been detained.

The 30-minute confessional interview was a part of a new trend in France, where highly trained politicians rarely reveal their feelings. Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn gave a similar interview, admitting "grave faults" after being accused of attempted rape. ($1 = 0.7616 euros)

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)