In perhaps the most embarrassing episode along these lines, the magistrate is searching for 4.6 million francs (about $900,000) that was allocated to help restructure the municipal debt in Nice.
The money was traced to an account held by a woman friend of the mayor, Elisabeth Arnulf, where records showed it had been withdrawn shortly before investigators got there. Asked about the disappearing money, Arnulf said she loaned it to a boyfriend in New York but forgot his name.
A member of the moderate right political party Rally for the Republic, Medecin had also managed to frighten mainstream French political leaders by his recent flirtation with the extreme right-wing National Front party of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Because of its large community of \o7 pieds noirs, \f7 mostly conservative former French colonists from Algeria, and an equally conservative retiree community, the Nice region was already a stronghold for the National Front. Le Pen's opponents feared that an alliance with Medecin could give the right-wing party its first majority in a regional government.
Fueling this fear, Medecin announced earlier this year that he agreed with 99% of the ideas espoused by the National Front, which has a strong anti-Arab, anti-immigrant platform and has been accused of anti-Semitism.
After Le Pen was turned down by mayors all over France in his attempt to find a site for the National Front's annual convention last spring, Medecin not only offered Nice but also hosted a reception for Le Pen.
Medecin's abrupt departure from his hometown left his broad-based political machine exposed at a time when corruption in French politics is a hot topic, and not just on the Mediterranean coast.
In his controversial new book, "Impossible Inquiry," disgruntled Police Inspector Antoine Gaudino claims that the same kind of corruption that Medecin is alleged to have practiced--accepting illegal kickbacks from government contracts and diverting funds from government-funded associations--permeates the whole French political system, all the way to the Elysee Palace, the office of President Francois Mitterrand.
Gaudino claimed he was suspended from his job as inspector of finance in Marseilles after he uncovered a scheme of false billings on government contracts that steered money to many leading Socialist Party politicians in the south of France. One of the men named in the Gaudino investigation was a former Mitterrand campaign treasurer, Henri Nallet.
Nallet was recently named minister of justice, the government position that oversees the courts.
Unlike the United States, which requires strict accounting for political financing and gives investigative agencies the power to demand party financial records, French political funding has traditionally occurred in the dark, beyond public scrutiny.
In January, the French National Assembly passed a law attempting to correct the problem by requiring more public disclosure of political contributions and allocating public money to help fund campaigns. For decades, however, the French electoral system has operated in a state of semiofficial corruption. Political parties needed money. The most common way to raise it was through kickbacks, often in the form of exorbitant consultant fees, on government contracts.
According to Gaudino, the same crimes that Medecin is accused of committing are also practiced by most of the main French political parties, including the ruling Socialist Party. He theorizes that the only reason Medecin was picked out for special attention was because, with his potential alliance with the National Front, he posed a political threat to the other parties.
"Corruption exists everywhere," Gaudino said in a telephone interview, "but the courts are not always authorized to look into it. Today the Socialist Party is in power, and one discovers that the biggest scandals are found in the opposition. Right now, the courts are after Medecin. But they could just as easily go after the others. The same (municipal) associations that surround Monsieur Medecin can also be found around the Socialist Party in the (Marseilles) affair that I investigated."
From his retreat in Punta del Este, Jacques Medecin sings a similar tune, claiming he is the victim of a "Socialist plot" against him.
Meanwhile, back in Nice, people await his return.
"I can't tell you when he will come back," said Jean Oltra. "Not tomorrow, but maybe after a year or two. But he will come back. Nice is his life, his soul, his family . . . . "