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French junior ministers resign over perks scandals

Two French junior ministers have resigned over spending scandals, as the government attempts to regain political credibility following a series of setbacks.

Christian Blanc (l) and Alain Joyandet (r)

One politician lost his job over a penchant for cigars

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has accepted the resignation of two of his junior ministers after separate spending scandals.

The resignations from Alain Joyandet, state secretary for overseas development, and Christian Blanc, state secretary for the Greater Paris region, followed disclosures that both politicians had abused their office perks.

Joyandet came under fire following press reports that he hired a private jet costing 116,500 euros to fly on official business to the Caribbean, when he could have taken a regular scheduled flight. He was also criticized last month over claims he was granted a permit illegally to build an extension to his house in Saint Tropez.

Blanc's office spent 12,000 euros ($14,680) on cigars, and the minister himself admitted to smoking a third of them. He was ordered to pay back the full bill.

The revelations came as the French government was looking to promote ministerial sobriety and budget austerity in the face of a deficit set to hit a record high of eight percent of GDP.

Sarkozy asserts authority

Christian Blanc (l) and Alain Joyandet (r)

Both Blanc (l.) and Joyandet resigned on Sunday


The resignations came as a surprise, as two days previously Sarkozy had publicly criticized the two men's behavior and made clear they would be removed from their posts in the next cabinet reshuffle in October.

But the president appeared unwilling to sacrifice his labor minister, Eric Woerth, who has also faced corruption accusations.

Woerth has been the subject of daily scrutiny over the so-called 'Bettancourt affair.' French authorities have ordered a full review into the tax situation of Liliane Bettancourt, the 87-year-old heiress of the L'Oreal cosmetics group, after one of her advisors acknowledged there may have been financial irregularities.

Opposition politicians have questioned why Woerth never ordered a review while he was budget minister from 2007 to 2010, suggesting it may have been because his wife then worked for the company that managed Bettancourt's wealth.

Woerth has denied any wrongdoing and Sarkozy has openly defended him. Leftist leaders say the furor over Blanc and Joyandet is a "fire shield" to distract voters from Woerth's ongoing difficulties.

In order for the state to save money, neither minister will be replaced. Sarkozy has also ordered that official use of planes and cars be restricted and departmental parties banned.

Author: Catherine Bolsover (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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