Monday, July 5, 2010

Ministers quit over 'perks'

PARIS - TWO French ministers resigned on Sunday after rows over the spending of thousands of euros of taxpayers' money on a private jet and cigars at a time when budget cuts are hitting the public.

Development Minister Alain Joyandet and Christian Blanc, a junior minister tasked with overseeing development of a Greater Paris region, both tendered their resignations, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said.

'The president and the prime minister have accepted their resignations,' said the statement from the Elysee palace. The pair had been in office since March 2008. Mr Sarkozy and his prime minister, Fran�ois Fillon, had asked the two ministers to step down on Sunday, government spokesman Luc Chatel told AFP.

In March Mr Joyandet, 56, was criticised for spending 116,500 euros (S$203,576) to hire a private plane to take him to Martinique for an emergency meeting on the earthquake in Haiti. Mr Blanc, 68, came under fire in June after it emerged that he had spent 12,000 euros (S$20,964) of taxpayers' money on Cuban cigars.

The resignations came as Mr Sarkozy's government was struggling to weather a crisis over Labour Minister Eric Woerth's ties to France's richest woman, L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. Mr Woerth's name came up in conversations secretly taped by Ms Bettencourt's butler in which she allegedly plotted to evade taxes on her fortune at a time when the minister's wife worked for a firm managing the billionaire's estate.

Mr Sarkozy on Monday ordered his prime minister to crack down on government perks by restricting use of official planes and cars, and scrapping parties. 'At a time when our compatriots are hit by the crisis, the state must more than ever set an example,' Mr Sarkozy wrote in a letter to Mr Fillon. -- AFP

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