PARIS (Reuters) - Calls grew on Monday for President Francois Hollande’s top Elysee official to resign after the aide gave contradictory accounts of a conversation with an opposition politician about ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s legal woes.
Sarkozy is seeking the conservative UMP party’s ticket to run for president in 2017 but is implicated in a series of legal cases running from influence-peddling to illegal party-funding. He denies wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a plot.
Hollande’s secretary-general, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, last week denied a report in Le Monde daily that he discussed Sarkozy’s troubles with Francois Fillon, another would-be conservative contender for president, at a lunch in June. But at the weekend Jouyet conceded the matter had indeed come up.
“Jean-Pierre Jouyet is either manipulating or lying and I think he should leave his post immediately, Gerald Darmanin, a spokesman for Sarkozy, told RTL radio. Bruno Le Maire, another senior member of the opposition UMP party, also called for Jouyet to step down.
Hollande’s office released a statement saying it planned no further communication on Jouyet’s case on Monday. “The matters being discussed ... are the business of the right, not for the executive,” it said.
Jouyet, known more as a technocrat than wily politician, is an old school-friend of the Socialist Hollande and one of his most trusted aides. Yet he briefly joined Sarkozy’s conservative government in 2007 where he made the acquaintance of Fillon, prime minister at the time.
In his weekend statement, Jouyet said he had spoken to Fillon about the legal cases but stopped short of saying Fillon had asked him to interfere in legal proceedings, as Le Monde says he confided to its journalists.
“I explained to my interlocutors that the president could do nothing about this process given it was being dealt with by the justice system,” Jouyet said in the statement.
Fillon has separately denied making any request to Jouyet to speed up investigations into Sarkozy.
Reporting by Chine Labbe and Julien Ponthus; writing by Mark John; editing by Brian Love