Mr Honesty and His Pounds 1,100 Shoes A Former French Foreign Minister and His 'Close Friend' Are Being Investigated for Corruption, Reports John Lichfield
Lichfield, John, The Independent (London, England)
IN THE grandiose, rarely lamented days of President Francois Mitterrand, France became cynically tolerant of champagne socialism. There is, however, a limit. Even the long-suffering French have been startled by the revelation that a well-known socialist politician wore a pair of shoes which cost pounds 1,100.
The socialist in question is Roland Dumas, 75, former foreign minister (1988-93), former close friend of President Mitterrand, and now the fifth most senior political figure in France. He is president of the Constitutional Council, the body which, amongst other things, pronounces on the honesty of French elections and politicians.
His lavish lifestyle, and that of his mistress, has long been the subject of polite speculation. In November last year his mistress, Christine Deviers- Joncour, 51, former wife of another minister and political opponent, was placed in custody. She admits taking huge "commissions" (bribes) of at least pounds 6m to influence his ministerial decisions on arms sales, especially a controversial sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991-92. In the next two weeks Mr Dumas will almost certainly be placed under investigation for "receipt or aiding and abetting the receipt of embezzled company funds". He was due to meet the investigating judges this week, but the appointment will be put back to allow him to convalesce from an operation. The case creates a possible constitutional crisis: can Mr Dumas remain the supreme arbiter of honesty in politics while under examination for dishonesty himself? On the other hand, if he is forced to resign, does not that undermine his right to be presumed innocent? The company funds in question belonged to the largest company in France, the oil firm Elf, which acted as an agent for the French arms maker Thomson in the sale of the frigates. Mr Dumas blocked the sale on the grounds that it would damage French relations with China. Later, the then socialist government mysteriously changed its mind (but not before squaring Peking). Mr Dumas denies receiving so much as a centime or a shoe-lace from the frigate sale. He admits that his pounds 1,100 shoes were bought for him on a Carte Bleue credit card given to his mistress by Elf. But he says that she was only settling the account for him and that he repaid her later. The shoes were, he explains, designed and made to measure by the Italian company Berluti to help cure an orthopaedic complaint. The investigating judges have evidence, however, that it was Mr Dumas who persuaded Elf to take on his mistress as a "public relations consultant". Her only duty appears to have been to lobby her lover. For this, and attending two meetings, pounds 6m was deposited by Elf in her Swiss bank account. …