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Politics

French ex-minister Cahuzac admits to Swiss bank account

After months denying the allegations, Jerome Cahuzac has now said he does have a Swiss bank account. The ex-budget minister apologized to President Francois Hollande, who in turn spoke of an "unforgivable moral mistake."

Jerome Cahuzac published a confession on his personal blog on Tuesday, apologizing both for holding a Swiss bank account for 20 years and for lying about the account's existence in recent months.

"I was caught in a spiral of lies and went astray. I am devastated by remorse," Cahuzac wrote on his website, addressing his previous denials, issued since the allegations against him first surfaced in December. Prosecutors launched a probe against him in January.

Cahuzac resigned as President Francois Hollande's budget minister on March 19, as prosecutors announced that a recording of a phone call obtained by the media appeared to be Cahuzac's voice. The minister said he was stepping down only to allow the government to function smoothly, at that point still calling the allegations "slanderous."

His lawyer, Jean Veil, told several news agencies later on Tuesday that prosecutors had formally placed Cahuzac under investigation - the last step before a suspect is accused of a crime and a court case opened under the French legal system.

Cahuzac said on his blog that he had told investigators about his Swiss account, saying that the funds within it - "being roughly 600,000 euros ($770,000)" - would be transferred to his account in Paris.

Apology not accepted

Cahuzac also explicitly apologized to President Hollande, the prime minister and his colleagues in government for "the damage that I have caused them." Cahuzac told Hollande that the allegations, first reported by French media outlet Mediapart, were baseless in a face-to-face meeting, and he also told parliament: "I don't have, I never have had, accounts abroad."

President Hollande issued a statement on Tuesday saying that he was following the case "with great severity," but also stressing that the consequences lay in the hands of the courts. The communiqué said that Cahuzac had committed an "unforgivable moral mistake" by initially lying about the bank account to parliament and the courts.

"For a responsible politician, two virtues are paramount: setting a good example and being honest," the statement concluded.

The president of the opposition center-right UMP alliance, Jean-Francois Cope, also alluded to the idea of exemplary behaviour in his response, questioning whether Hollande could now deliver the "exemplary Republic" he promised in last year's presidential election campaign.

msh/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)