Prosecutors Give French Premier New Lease on Life

From Associated Press

Premier Alain Juppe, accused of finagling low-rent apartments in swank Paris neighborhoods for himself and his son, got a new lease on political life Wednesday when prosecutors dropped charges.

Juppe's political foes accused authorities of brushing the scandal aside, and his conservative allies breathed a collective sigh of relief. Financial markets rebounded after weeks of uncertainty.

A formal investigation could have led to Juppe's resignation less than five months after taking office as prime minister.

Prosecutor Bruno Cotte made his decision in the preliminary judicial inquiry despite concluding that Juppe had interfered for his own "personal interest" in the affair.

Juppe had been accused by a Paris taxpayers association of cutting his son's rent for a city apartment by $200 and making the city pay $200,000 to renovate his own apartment.

In his report Wednesday, Cotte told justice officials that his decision was conditional upon Juppe and his son moving out of their Paris apartments, which Juppe had already announced last week that they would do.

Prosecutor General Jean-Francois Burgelin went further in Juppe's favor, saying that "in my eyes, there was no crime" and that Juppe was not required to move out of his apartment. His finding overrode Cotte's.

Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre called the scandal "a political affair that should never have been."

"I never had the feeling that the prime minister was weakened," Debre declared.

But Alain Bocquet, a leading Communist lawmaker, said Wednesday's decision indicated "a two-speed justice system--one for the powerful and one for the poor."

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