Top French minister resigns after reports of lavish lifestyle
The No. 2 official in the French government resigned Tuesday following media reports that he has been living a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer expense, including hosting lobster and Champagne soirees and ordering up exorbitant renovations of his ministerial apartment.
With the French “yellow vest” backlash against the elite political system still fresh in the public mind, support for Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy ebbed as new stories emerged.
He said on his verified Facebook page that he submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe “to defend myself” and to protect his family. It was not immediately clear who would replace him.
De Rugy said he filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday morning over the “media attacks” that forced him to step down from his post, which is second in the Cabinet after the prime minister.
De Rugy has been the object of criticism in the week since investigative news site Mediapart reported that he and his wife hosted lavish dinners for friends while he served as president of the lower house of Parliament.
After his appointment in September as ecology minister, De Rugy reportedly spent some $68,000 to refurbish his government apartment. He fired his top aide after Mediapart reported she kept a public rent-controlled apartment vacant, rather than using it as a primary residence as required. Then Mediapart reported that De Rugy had done the same thing.
“The media attacks and lynching of my family force me to take a step back — which anyone could understand,” De Rugy wrote in the Facebook post. “The mobilization necessary to defend myself means that I will not be able to serenely and effectively carry out the mission entrusted to me by the president and the prime minister.”
He said he filed the defamation complaint for what he called “untruths” published by Mediapart since last week based on “stolen photos, gossip, approximations.”
“There is no doubt about the will to harm, dirty, demolish,” the ex-minister’s statement said.
De Rugy, 45, was named president of the National Assembly, the lower chamber of Parliament, in June 2017 after President Emmanuel Macron’s election.
He took on the important post of ecology minister in September after his predecessor, TV star Nicolas Hulot, resigned in frustration at not being able to carry out his mission as he saw fit.
Living off the fat of the coffers of the French Republic is nothing new. But the scandal surrounding De Rugy gained special momentum because of Macron’s bid to clean house. In September 2017, on national television, Macron signed into law two measures to put morals into public life four months after taking office, fulfilling a campaign promise. The measures notably ban members of Parliament and the government from hiring family members, and force lawmakers to account for their spending, doing away with handsome monthly indemnities to be spent as they wished.
As National Assembly president, De Rugy went further, introducing a series of rigorous measures to cut the individual spending of lawmakers, part of the clean-image campaign to ensure legislators set a good example.
Macron said he accepted the resignation so that De Rugy “can defend himself fully and freely,” BFMTV reported.
Mediapart published multiple stories about De Rugy’s expenses, including photos of lavish dinners featuring giant lobsters. The paper said wines served at the soirees were among the best in the renowned cellars of the National Assembly.
The prime minister summoned De Rugy last week and ordered an investigation of the renovations at the minister’s official apartment. A separate investigation was ordered of the dinner parties from his time as National Assembly president.
On Tuesday, Mediapart was preparing a new story alleging that De Rugy had used $10,322 from his expense funds as a lawmaker to pay for his membership in the Green party, which he has since left, and then claimed it as a tax deduction.
The site said De Rugy had promised a response to the allegations by 2 p.m. Instead, he announced his resignation 40 minutes later.
“The surprise in all this is hypocrisy. We say one thing and do another,” Mediapart chief editor and founder Edwy Plenel said on French channel BFMTV.
One lawmaker for Macron’s party, Olivia Gregoire, denounced the opposition for pouncing on the minister before investigations were completed, and for judging him on photos without giving him the presumption of innocence.
Gregoire said on BFMTV that De Rugy’s resignation was proof not of guilt but that “he’s had enough.”
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