May 31, 2017 / 6:29 AM / in 6 months

Macron defends minister assailed by financial misconduct charges

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday expressed support for a government minister who is under pressure to resign over alleged impropriety in financial dealings, even as an opinion poll showed most French voters thought the minister should quit.

French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and Territorial Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand (R) leave the Elysee Palace after a weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Richard Ferrand, who directed Macron’s successful election campaign and is now urban planning minister, is battling media reports of financial misconduct six years ago when he managed a health insurance fund in the Brittany region.

He denies wrongdoing and has refused to quit.

The Ferrand affair and that of a junior minister, Marielle de Sarnez, who denies far-right accusations that she acted wrongly in hiring an assistant for her work as a member of the European Parliament, comes at an awkward time for the newly elected Macron as he gears for parliamentary elections in less than two weeks.

Macron, a centrist, hopes the two-round vote in June will give his Republic on the Move party control of parliament to enable him to consolidate power after his presidential victory.

A Harris poll published on Wednesday said 70 percent of respondents believed Ferrand should step down, while 62 percent felt the same way about Europe Affairs minister de Sarnez.

Macron’s opponents are relishing his government’s discomfort after its pledge to curb corruption in politics, and given that scandals involving his presidential rivals helped him to victory over the far right’s Marine Le Pen.

Macron, presiding over a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, came out in support of Ferrand, calling on his colleagues to show solidarity, the government’s spokesman told journalists.

“Only the courts are equipped to pass judgment ... Things are not always good when the press becomes the judge,” Macron was quoted as saying by spokesman, Christophe Castaner.

Ferrand himself earlier on Wednesday repeated he saw no reason to resign and said his work as manager of a Brittany health insurance fund had been above board and transparent.

“I am not two-faced,” he said. “If I am here it’s to tell listeners nobody’s being hoodwinked,” he told France inter radio.

Reporting by Brian Love and Ingrid Melander; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams

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