French minister resigns over Swiss bank account

Jérôme Cahuzac, French budget minister, resigned on Tuesday night following the opening of a judicial inquiry into a secret Swiss bank account allegedly held in his name but which he has repeatedly denied having.

French minister resigns over Swiss bank account
Former French budget mInister Jérôme Cahuzac. Photo: Cyclotron

His resignation was announced by the Elysée Palace following weeks of mounting pressure on the Socialist politician.

The move by prosecutors to open a full investigation into the Swiss UBS bank account he allegedly used to hide assets from the tax authorities, made Cahuzac's position untenable and deeply embarrassing for the Socialist government as he was the minister in charge of combating tax avoidance.

Cahuzac, whose ministerial brief had included fighting against tax evasion, had denied any wrongdoing following a report by the Mediapart investigative website that he had an undeclared Swiss bank account until 2010.

Mediapart said he then transferred the money in the account to Singapore.

It said it had a "trace" of a conversation between the minister and one of his former aides in which he allegedly fretted about the UBS account and then said he had "dealt with the matter."

Prosecutors said police experts had concluded that Cahuzac "is the man speaking" on the tape.

They said they had decided to open a formal investigation into money laundering and fraud.

Cahuzac has dismissed reports of offshore accounts as "crazy claims".

In a statement in December he said: "I have never had an account in Switzerland or any other place abroad."

He also denied figuring in the recording reported by Mediapart.

Mediapart claimed that Cahuzac closed the account in 2010 just before becoming head of the finance committee of the National Assembly.

It alleged he made a discreet trip to Geneva to close the account.

The Tribune de Genève reported that French authorities have sought  help from Geneva justice officials over the affair.

Cahuzac continues to deny having an account and vows to "devote all his energy" to defending himself.

In a statement he said he submitted his resignation to President Hollande "out of respect for the proper functioning of government".

The minister, who is a civil plaintiff in a judicial probe into French residents suspected of tax fraud, had previously announced sweeping measures to fight tax evasion.

Weekly magazine L'Express on Tuesday evening reported that Cahuzac had been replaced by Bernard Cazaneuve, who was Junior Minister for European Affairs.

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Swiss banker lied over French accounts: report

A former banker who threatened to blow the lid on a list of French politicians and "big names" with Swiss bank accounts fabricated the entire story, a Swiss business newspaper reported on Friday.

Swiss banker lied over French accounts: report
Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, former employee of Geneva bank Reyl and Cie. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

Pierre Condamin-Gerbier, a key witness in a major French tax fraud investigation, is under arrest in Switzerland after breaching the country's banking secrecy laws by testifying in the investigation into France's former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac.

But Condamin-Gerbier's lawyer told Swiss financial daily Agefi the former Geneva banker had invented a list of French politicians with secret Swiss accounts.

"This list never existed," lawyer Edmond de Braun said, adding that his client had lied "to silence the threats that he was subject to at the time."

The former banker "now acknowledges that this was a very clumsy" strategy, he told Agefi.

Condamin-Gerbier was arrested in Switzerland last month shortly after he testified before a French parliamentary commission investigating Cahuzac, who resigned as budget minister in March.

He quit over an undeclared foreign bank account said to contain around 600,000 euros ($770,000).

Condamin-Gerbier, who remains in Swiss custody, told media he had given French investigators details of 15 French politicians and "big names" with undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland.

De Braun told Agefi his client became entangled in the affair after French daily Le Monde published a "defamatory" article about him.

"He wanted to correct what had been said about him through other media, and lost himself in this inextricable process," de Braun said.

"It was the worst thing he could have done," 

Condamin-Gerbier's former employer Geneva bank Reyl and Cie, which is at the heart of the Cahuzac scandal and which is under investigation in France for enabling tax fraud, filed a criminal complaint against its former employee in June for among other things "falsifying documents and violating professional and commercial confidentiality."