French Justice Minister Charged Over Conflicts Stays in Job

Emmanuel Macron’s Justice Minister will remain in government even after he was charged Friday over allegations of conflict of interests -- the latest addition to the list of ministers who’ve faced legal scrutiny during the French president’s term.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a renowned criminal-defense lawyer earning the nickname “Acquittator” before he was named Justice Minister last year, is suspected of having used his position to intervene in cases he was involved in as an attorney.

While Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a statement he reiterated his trust in Dupond-Moretti and asked him to keep his governmental role, the charges could weigh on Macron’s track record, some nine months before the next presidential election.

Macron came to power with a promise to bring about a “New World” and reconcile French people with politics by promoting transparency and accountability. During the 2017 race where his right-wing rival Francois Fillon’s campaign was hit by embezzlement allegations, Macron said then that a minister who has been charged should resign.

French Justice Minister Charged Over Conflicts Stays in Job

The French President has pushed out three ministers who were being investigated. However other ministers, including Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, have faced serious allegations have stayed on.

On Friday, Dupond-Moretti’s lawyer in the case, Christophe Ingrain, told reporters his client had been charged after he was questioned for several hours by investigative magistrates. Ingrain considers his accusers didn’t provide proper explanations for pressing the charges and said Dupond-Moretti will seek to overturn them.

“This disregard for his rights is in keeping with the anomalies we have observed since the start of these proceedings,” Ingrain said.

In France, investigative magistrates can decide to charge companies or individuals in a procedure known as “mise en examen” when there are “serious or consistent” clues showing likely involvement in wrongdoing. They can then decide whether to refer a case to trial, but aren’t involved after that stage.

Dupond-Moretti or “EDM,” as he’s often called by the French media, was appointed minister during a cabinet reshuffle in June 2020 following disappointing results for Macron’s party in municipal elections.

He’s suspected of conflicts of interest for having ordered an administrative inquiry into prosecutors who had ordered a review of his phone bills when he was working as lawyer. A second set of allegations concern another administrative probe into an investigative magistrate involved in a case one of Dupond-Moretti’s clients had a part in.

Castex said the opening of such cases is a “normal” part of a justice minister’s job. The prime minister added that they don’t have a legal impact on those under investigation and said that the cases were placed under his own supervision to avoid any conflicts of interest in the eventuality that disciplinary proceedings are initiated.

If Dupond-Moretti fails to overturn the charges, he may face trial in front of the Cour de Justice de la Republique, which specializes in ministerial misconduct.

The court, made up of professional judges and lawmakers, has previously tried a handful of former ministers, including Segolene Royal and Laurent Fabius. Both were cleared. Christine Lagarde, the European Central Bank’s chief, was however convicted of negligence by that court in 2016.

Macron once said he wanted to abolish the jurisdiction, so that ministers would appear before regular courts.

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