France’s Justice Minister will appear in front of a special tribunal over alleged conflict of interest and abuse of office. The first time a sitting member of the French government has had to face the body.
Eric Dupond-Moretti, a former celebrity defence lawyer who was an unconventional pick for minister by the French president in 2020, is due to appear on Monday before the special tribunal, which hears cases on ministerial misconduct and composed of 3 judges and 12 members of parliament.
The allegations centre on whether Dupond-Moretti abused his position to settle old scores with magistrates and prosecutors he clashed during his decades as a defence lawyer.
He will remain in his job during the 10-day trial, drawing attention to Macron's habit of retaining ministers and advisers who run into legal problems, despite having pledged in the 2017 presidential election campaign to run a “clean, transparent government”.
“Why should we ask the minister to resign ... when he has not been convicted of anything and has not been found guilty of anything?” government spokesman Olivier Veran told French television channel BFMTV on Friday. According to Veran, the justice minister would be able to do his job during the proceeding.
The case, initially sparked in part by complaints filed by a leftwing union representing judges that opposed Dupond-Moretti’s appointment, will also test the special tribunal, the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR). Critics say the body is overly politicized and ineffective because MPs sit alongside judges.
“The situation is very strange. The sitting minister is being judged over conflicts of interest by people with whom he has a conflict of interest,” said Paul Cassia, vice-chairman of the anti-corruption organization Anticor, which, along with two judges’ unions, lodged the initial complaint against the minister.
“We accuse Eric Dupond-Moretti of using public office to satisfy private interests,” added Cassia, who will testify in court.
Dupond-Moretti, a combative orator known for defending Société Générale’s rogue trader Jerome Kerviel and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has denied guilt. If found guilty, he risks five years in prison and a €500,000 fine.
Anti-corruption organization Transparency International France called on the justice minister to quit when he was ordered to stand trial last October, while opposition politicians have also urged him to resign. The Court of Justice of the Republic concluded its investigation into Dupond-Moretti in April last year. He is accused of trying to settle scores with court investigators with whom he had conflicts during his years as a lawyer.
The complaint against Dupond-Moretti was filed by three judicial unions and Anticor, a public association specializing in corruption.