Former French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, pictured last month, admitted… (Miguel Medina / AFP/Getty…)
PARIS -- France's Socialist government was tarnished by scandal Tuesday after the former minister in charge of stamping out tax fraud admitted to having an undeclared foreign bank account.
After months of denying the accusations, Jerome Cahuzac, who resigned March 19 saying he was standing down to better defend himself against the “astonishing” allegations, admitted having a secret account containing about $770,000.
The former minister, now under investigation for tax evasion, repeatedly denied reports started by the investigative website Mediapart that he had hidden money in foreign accounts, first in Switzerland and then in Singapore. He described the allegations as “crazy” and “slanderous” before the National Assembly and during an “eye to eye” meeting with French President Francois Hollande.
On Tuesday, Cahuzac, a 60-year-old former plastic surgeon, finally admitted the truth. He did so on his blog, confessing that he had held a foreign bank account for 20 years.
“I was caught in a spiral of lies and lost my way.... I am devastated by guilt,” he said in a later statement to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
“It was an unspeakable mistake to think that I could avoid confronting a past that I wanted to think as behind me,” Cahuzac added. “I will now face this reality with all transparency.”
The scandal was a major embarrassment for Hollande, who has made fighting tax evasion a priority in his effort to curb France's rampant public debt.
Cahuzac's lawyer, Jean Veil, said most of the money in the accounts came from Cahuzac's “activity as a surgeon and also as a consultant.” The former minister said on Tuesday that the money would be “repatriated to my [bank] account in Paris.”
He asked for “forgiveness for the damage I have caused” to the president and the government and offered his “sincere and deepest apologies” to the French people.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Hollande said the former minister had committed an “unforgivable moral fault” in denying the existence of the secret bank account.
Cahuzac has been formally put under investigation on suspicion of laundering the proceeds of tax fraud, which carries a maximum five-year term in prison. If further investigation establishes that he has committed the more serious offense of fiscal fraud, Cahuzac faces a maximum seven years in prison and a $1.28 million fine.
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