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Former French Premier Haunted by Loan Scandal Kills Himself

<i> From Reuters</i>

Former Prime Minister Pierre Beregovoy, deeply stung by allegations of impropriety over an interest-free loan he took from a businessman friend, committed suicide Saturday. He was 67.

Beregovoy, whose Socialist government was defeated in a right-wing landslide in general elections in March, shot himself in the head with his bodyguard’s pistol in his hometown of Nevers, 125 miles south of Paris.

Firefighters found him on the bank of a canal after his driver phoned authorities. He fell into a deep coma and died while being transferred by helicopter to Val de Grace military hospital in Paris, the Defense Ministry said.

“This was the act of a psychologically wounded public figure . . . who could not bear seeing his honor cast in doubt,” Socialist Party spokesman Jean Glavany said.

Beregovoy was President Francois Mitterrand’s prime minister for nearly a year until the Socialists were defeated by a center-right coalition. He was succeeded by conservative Edouard Balladur, who was named prime minister on March 29.

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In a statement, Balladur said: “I am deeply moved by the tragic death of Pierre Beregovoy. I knew him well and I held him in esteem.

“He was a man of great merit and great courage.”

A man of humble origins, Beregovoy rose from being a railway worker to finance minister in 1984 and premier in April, 1992.

A champion of financial orthodoxy and strong franc policies, his name was linked to the modernization of French financial markets.

Until his death, Beregovoy was mayor of Nevers, and he retained his seat in the National Assembly in the March election.

But he was deeply depressed by the disclosure during the campaign that he received a $180,000 interest-free loan from businessman Roger-Patrice Pelat, who was later indicted for insider trading.

Politicians and friends said Beregovoy was pained that his honesty had been cast in doubt but they had never suspected he would try to take his life.

Jean-Pierre Harris, the first deputy mayor of Nevers, said: “He was less impervious than it appeared. His honor had been hit above all with this affair about the loan.”

Beregovoy said he registered the loan with a notary, repaid it in full and did nothing illegal.

His former chief of staff, Alain Boublil, is due to stand trial next month, charged with helping Pelat, who has since died, to make a profit on shares of an American company bought up by the state-owned French firm Pechiney.

Some Socialists accused the press and justice authorities of hounding Beregovoy.

“If I were a judge or a journalist, I would not sleep very well tonight,” said Michel Charasse, a close Mitterrand aide.


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