France to publish ministers' assets as scandal deepens

PARIS Mon Apr 8, 2013 10:32am EDT

France's newly appointed Junior Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac attends a handover ceremony in Paris May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

France's newly appointed Junior Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac attends a handover ceremony in Paris May 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's Socialist government promised on Monday to publish details of individual ministers' assets next week as it scrambled to stem a deepening scandal over a former budget minister's secret foreign bank account.

Jerome Cahuzac quit his post in March and was placed under formal investigation for alleged tax fraud last week as he acknowledged he had been caught "in a spiral of lies" over his previous denials of holding a Swiss bank account.

The affair risks upsetting President Francois Hollande's economic reform effort, with even left-wing allies criticizing his handling of the scandal. Hollande's opinion poll ratings are already at record lows for his failure to tackle unemployment.

"To begin with, wealth declarations of all the members of government will be made public by April 15," a statement issued by Hollande's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

The statement said the move - which echoes requirements in the United States and elsewhere for public officials to make asset declarations - would be followed by a law setting out moral standards in public life in coming months, it said.

Separately, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a statement denying local media speculation that he was the holder of a Swiss bank account.

Swiss RTS TV reported on Sunday, citing banking sources, that Cahuzac sought to transfer 15 million euros ($20 million) from one Swiss account to another - far more than the 600,000 euros he said last week he had in an undeclared foreign account.

Reached on Monday, Cahuzac's lawyer declined to comment.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici - the senior minister to whom Cahuzac reported in government - has rejected criticism from the French right that he was too ready to believe Cahuzac's denials and did not adequately investigate the matter.

Weekend surveys found 60 percent of the public want Hollande to reshuffle his team and three-quarters view most politicians and elected officials as corrupt.

Hollande has a slim parliamentary majority without the backing of far-leftists and Greens, so could still scrape through an upcoming law to loosen hiring and firing rules, and a 2014 pension overhaul, without their blessing.

But noisy protests could limit what he can do, especially as his approval ratings have slumped to as low as 22 percent. ($1 = 0.7679 euros)

(Reporting by Catherine Bremer and John Irish; editing by Mark John)

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