France's president has criticized the actions of his ex-budget minister in a bid to distance himself from the unfolding scandal. The remarks came a day after Jerome Cahuzac confessed to hiding a Swiss bank account.
French President Francois Hollande appeared on national television Wednesday afternoon to address a political scandal that has undermined his government at a time when his approval rating has dropped to an all-time low.
Cahuzac's lies were "an insult to the Republic," Hollande said in his televised speech on Wednesday.
"He deceived the highest authorities in the country: the head of state, the head of the government, parliament, and through them all the French people," he said.
The day before, the former budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, had confessed on his personal blog to possessing a Swiss bank account, allegations which he had repeatedly denied in recent months. About 600,000 euros ($770,000) were in the account and would be transferred to his Paris account, he said.
The admission came about two weeks after Cahuzac resigned amid the growing scandal, even though he had maintained at the time that he was innocent of the "slanderous" allegations.
During his televised remarks, the French president pledged to protect his country from further political abuse. Lawmakers and top officials would be required to disclose their finances and previous tax dodgers would not be permitted to hold public office, he said.
Hollande 'naive or lying'
The Cahuzac scandal appeared to shake confidence in Hollande's government even further and cast a dark shadow over his campaign promise of leading an "exemplary Republic."
Center-right opposition leader, Jean Francois Cope, expressed disbelief that Hollande had no knowledge of Cahuzac's tax dodging.
"[If Hollande knew nothing] that's extremely serious because it means he showed a certain amount of naivite," UMP leader Cope said during an interview on the radio station Europe 1, adding that if he did, "that means he lied to the French people."
Taxation aimed at reducing France's budget deficit has become Hollande's main goal during his term, which began less than a year ago. A contentious proposal to levy a 75 percent income tax on citizens earning over one millions euros drew sharp criticism from France's wealthiest citizens earlier this year, even driving some to seek refuge in neighboring Belgium.
Compounded with an unemployment rate that has risen above 10 percent, the Socialist president's popularity has fallen sharply. According to recent opinion polls, Hollande's rating has plunged to around 30 percent.
kms/rc (AP, AFP)