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French investigators to probe favoritism charges linked to Macron talk in Las Vegas

Prosecutors have launched a probe into a US trip Emmanuel Macron made last year as French economy minister. A judicial source has revealed allegations of favoritism over the organization of an event at CES in Las Vegas.

The Paris prosecution office on Tuesday launched an investigation into allegations of favoritism linked to a trip French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron made last year.

The allegations date back to January 2016, when the then-French economy minister was the main speaker at a high-profile event organized by his ministry at the CES technology fair in Las Vegas.

However, according to a judicial source, it appears the unit within the French economy ministry that organized the event outsourced support without a issuing a public tender, fuelling allegations of favoritism.

According to French newspaper "Le Canarde Enchaine," which broke the story, French public relations giant Havas was chosen to organize the event after the economy ministry reportedly sought no other bids from other companies. The report also revealed the event cost a total of nearly 400,000 euros ($425,000), some 100,000 of which was spent on hotel expenses alone.

Several officials within the Macron's ministry reportedly formerly worked at Havas.

Macron in the clear?

An aide to presidential candidate told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the investigation would focus on the promotional unit within the ministry tasked with organizing the event, Business France, as well as Havas.

"It's in no way a story about Macron," the aide said. Macron is not directly mentioned in the judiciary's examination and he has denied any wrongdoing. Addressing the allegations last week, the 39-year-old independent candidate said: "I had no knowledge of it at the time, but I cannot imagine that my ministry would organize an event without a tender."

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Business France appeared to recognize its responsibility in the legally dubious organization of the event. In a statement, the governmental promotions team said: "Burdened by delays, it appears that the procedure for choosing a provider capable of heading the organization of the US event, as well as the relevant communications, (…) was affected by irregularities."

News of the allegations came the same day that the prosecution office announced that it was placing Francois Fillon, Macron's election rival, under formal investigation over the fake jobs scandal

Macron is the current frontrunner in this year's French presidential election and favorite to win the keys to the Elysee Palace. 

dm/jm (AFP, dpa)

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