French justice minister faces court over alleged abuse of office

France’s Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti is to be indicted by a special court over allegations that he abused his position to retaliate against judges whom he harbored resentments from his career as a defense lawyer.

A panel of three judges ruled on Monday that there was enough evidence to bring the case before the Cour de Justice de la République, the only judicial body in France empowered to try ministers for alleged misconduct during their tenure.

Dupond-Moretti’s lawyers told Agence France-Presse that they would appeal the decision and continued to protest his innocence.

Dupond-Moretti, famous for defending renegade Société Générale dealer Jérôme Kerviel and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, is the first sitting justice minister to face such a trial. Transparency International France called for his resignation on Monday, saying his continuation would “feed a sense of public distrust of the political class.”

Spokesmen for the Élysée Palace and the Prime Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The case has caused a headache for President Emmanuel Macron, who nominated Dupond-Moretti in 2020 and gave him a mandate to reform the justice system, which has been plagued by budget and staffing shortages that have led to long delays in cases ranging from divorce to serious crime .

Shortly after Dupond-Moretti became minister, several judges’ unions and anti-corruption agency Anticor filed a complaint alleging that he had “illegally exploited” his position as minister to retaliate against judges who had handled cases against him or affected his clients.

Macron supported Dupond-Moretti in staying in office even when he was officially under investigation in July 2021 – just one step away from indictment according to the French justice system. But the case has increased tensions between the minister and the judges and lawyers under him.

“The situation of the Minister of Justice is unprecedented. . . not only because of the nature of the offenses alleged against him, which constitute a serious breach of probity. . . but also for how, despite the responsibility of his position, he has repeatedly questioned the impartiality of the process,” the two unions said in a statement.

A key allegation revolves around the fact that shortly before his appointment by Macron, Dupond-Moretti filed a lawsuit alleging that his privacy had been violated by France’s Financial Crimes Prosecutor (PNF). He accused the panel of abusing its power by accessing his phone records and those of other lawyers during an investigation into alleged bribery by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

After his appointment as Minister of Justice, he withdrew his complaint. Shortly thereafter, he ordered a disciplinary investigation against two judges of the PNF and their then boss, Éliane Houlette.

Former French ministers to have been put on trial since its creation in 1993 include Christine Lagarde, who was convicted of negligence in public office in 2016 for failing to prevent a €403 million fraudulent payout that the French state had paid to the entrepreneur Bernard Tapie as finance minister.

Béatrice Brugère, a judge belonging to a union not involved in the complaints against Dupond-Moretti, said it was up to political leadership to decide whether it was a good idea for the minister to continue in his post.

“For Macron’s government, which wanted to put integrity at the heart of its program, it does not send a good signal if he is condemned,” she said.

https://www.ft.com/content/37b153d5-7aa9-49c2-b331-e22976e6cf38 French justice minister faces court over alleged abuse of office

Adam Bradshaw

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