France's Finance Minister Herve Gaymard, accused of lying in a scandal over a flat paid for by the state, gave in to the pressure Friday and handed in his resignation.
Gaymard had one flat too many
"I have decided to hand to the prime minister my resignation as minister for economy, finance and industry," Gaymard, who took over in November, said in a statement.
A 44 year-old ally of President Jacques Chirac and the father of eight children, Gaymard moved out of a luxury flat near the Champs-Elysees a week ago after the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine revealed that it was costing the state €14,000 ($18,500) a month. However the scandal burst out again on Wednesday when the same magazine revealed that Gaymard already has a large apartment of his own in central Paris.
"I am aware that I have made blunders, first of all a serious error of appreciation concerning the conditions of my state-paid apartment. I brought that situation to a close straightaway and will, as I have said, pay back any expenses that have been incurred," he said. "But despite that my family has been for several days the victim of real harassment.
"Beyond that, I do not wish to prejudice the functions that the Republic has entrusted to me and which I respect most highly, nor the action of the government."
The office of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin refused to comment Friday afternoon. Earlier government sources speaking anonymously told the AFP news agency that no outcome was being ruled out -- indicating that his resignation would not come as a surprise.
Gaymard was due to appear on the main television evening news program to explain his version of events, and his office said he intended to keep the appointment. Supporters of the minister conceded that his behavior has gravely embarrassed the center-right government at a time when it is trying to preach a message of budget restraint, and when the problems of finding affordable accommodation are at the top of the public's concerns.
News that the country's unemployment rate passed the symbolic 10-percent mark Friday did not help either in the battle of communication.
The minister had earlier refused to resign -- describing himself as "as clean as a new penny" -- but insiders knew he was fighting for his political survival. "The fate of Herve Gaymard is 'hanging on a thread'," said the conservative newspaper Le Figaro in its Friday edition.
Paris ain't cheap.
The initial scandal appeared to die away after Gaymard -- a fervent Catholic from the Alpine Savoie district -- agreed to move out of the controversial 600 square-meter apartment into smaller accommodation at his ministry.
But it burst open again with the revelation that he has from the start owned a 200 square-meter apartment in central Paris which he has been renting out for 2,300 euros a month.
The minister then made his position barely tenable when he gave an interview to Paris-Match magazine in which he implied that as a man of humble origins he had no independent means to house his family.
"I have always lived humbly. I do not have money, Obviously if I wasn't the son of a shoemaker, if I was a member of the bourgeoisie, I wouldn't have any housing problem. I would own my own apartment and we wouldn't have this affair," he said.
"Does one have to be the son of a bourgeois or from a rich family in order to work in politics or be a minister?" he asked.
The left-wing newspaper Liberation piled on the pressure, reporting that Gaymard also owns a house in Brittany, as well as two apartments, offices and a house in his home in the Savoie.