French politics no stranger to scandals
The Bettencourt case is by no means the first scandal to rock French politics. In the early 20th century corruption cases led to governments falling. In the post-war period many cases arose from attempts to dodge the law on party finance. And there have been suicides. But today’s politicians seem to survive rather better than in the past.
A look at some of France's previous scandals:
1892: The Panama affair – an early scheme to dig the Panama Canal went bust; Parliament had endorsed a risky manoeuvre which led to investors losing millions; far-right papers unearthed evidence of MPs taking bribes and the government fell.
1933: The Stavisky affair – A crooked financier’s suicide revealed malpractice by ministers, top police officers and many more; led to a violent confrontation between fascists and police in which 14 died; the government fell.
1991: The Urba affair – companies bidding for public contracts were found to have made secret payments to the Socialist Party; several prominent party members, including party treasurer and MP Henri Emanuelli, were found guilty of corruption.
1993: The Pelat affair – Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy was found to have accepted an interest-free loan to buy a swish Paris apartment from Roger-Patrice Pelat, a friend of President François Mitterrand implicated in other corruption cases; the Socialists were defeated in that year’s election; no case against Bérégovoy was ever filed; he committed suicide in May 1993.
1994: The Méry affair: As Jacques Chirac and Edouard Balladur fought for the nomination of the country's main right-wing party, the RPR, in the 1995 presidential election, businessman Jean-Claude Méry is accused of drawn up fake bills for work on council housing in Paris and the sourrounding region so as to finance the RPR; before dying of cancer in 1999, Méry recorded a video-cassette claiming to have given Chirac five million francs in cash (762,000 euros); the case against Chirac is dropped because the principal witness is dead.
1995: Laurent Juppé’s apartment: Prime Minister Alain Juppé was found to have told the Paris authorities to reduce the rent of a 189m² Paris apartment, redecorated with public funds, which is being let to his son, Laurent; the case is dropped on condition that the Juppés leave the apartment.
1998: Phantom jobs for the Paris council – Companies bidding for contracts in Paris are found to have financed President Jacques Chirac’s RPR party by creating fake jobs for party members and employees; the RPR also created phantom jobs on the city council payroll; Alain Juppé is given an 18-month suspended sentence; an inquiry into Chirac’s implication is still ongoing.
Other post-war politicians implicated in scandals have included International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, former Industry Minister Gérard Longuet and former economy minster Hervé Gaymard.
President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was accused of receiving a gift of one-million-francs-worth (152,000 euros) of diamonds from the Central African Republic’s dictatorial ruler, Jean-Bedel Bokassa. At least nine scandals have been associated with Jacques Chirac.
Presidents benefit from immunity from prosecution while in office.