PARIS (Reuters) - A former budget minister who championed France’s campaign against tax dodgers went on trial on Monday three years after he was forced to quit over the discovery that he owned a secret bank account abroad.
Jerome Cahuzac, 63, a plastic surgeon by trade who was appointed budget minister when Socialist President Francois Hollande took power in 2012, stands accused of tax fraud and money laundering and faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.
Stonefaced, Cahuzac arrived for his trial, struggling to make his way through hordes of journalists.
Cahuzac’s downfall cast a pall over Hollande’s government in its first year, all the more so because he had stood up in parliament in December 2012 to declare: “I do not and never had a foreign bank account, neither now nor before.”
The ex-minister, who had presented government proposals to clamp down on tax evasion in December 2013, quit three months later and admitted that he had indeed placed 600,000 euros ($667,000) abroad.
Judicial investigators later unearthed an account opened at Swiss bank UBS in the early 1990s that was later transferred to Singapore under the codename “Birdie”.
At the opening of the trial, Cahuzac’s lawyers said they would lodge an appeal for the trial to be postponed pending resolution of legal questions.
Reporting by Simon Carraud and Gerrard Bon; Writing by Brian Love, editing by Alister Doyle and Robin Pomeroy