French PM backs minister after Swiss account denial

PARIS Wed Dec 5, 2012 3:48pm EST

PARIS Dec 5 (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stood behind his budget minister on Wednesday after he rejected media allegations that he had held a secret Swiss bank account.

Jerome Cahuzac, who is leading a government crackdown on tax evasion, has vigorously denied a report by the Mediapart news website which said he had held an account at Swiss bank UBS until the beginning of 2010.

"I have full confidence in my minister Jerome Cahuzac," Ayrault said on France 2.

Ayrault made his remarks after Mediapart followed up on its first report on Tuesday by publishing a recording of a telephone call from 2000 in which a male voice it said belonged to Cahuzac mentions an account he held at UBS.

Earlier Cahuzac denied during the government's weekly questions session in parliament ever holding a Swiss account.

"I don't have, I never have had accounts abroad," Cahuzac told lawmakers, adding that he had filed a legal complaint against the website.

Mediapart, staffed by veteran French newspaper and news agency journalists, gained prominence in 2010 when it broke news of a political funding scandal around ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party and L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

Sarkozy was questioned last month by magistrates involved in a legal investigation into the allegations. According to a French daily which obtained excerpts of Sarkozy's closed-door testimony, he denied receiving "a penny" in campaign funds. (Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Mark John and Jon Hemming)