French Minister Resigns Over Lavish Dinners Scandal

French environment minister François de Rugy, who has allegedly been paying fancy dinners, including lobsters and fine wines, with taxpayers’ money, resigned on Tuesday but denied the claims and accused media of lynching him, Le Monde reported.

Lavish dinners, according to Euronews, were just a part of the ex-minister’s spending, as the string of allegations includes renovation of his official residence as well as some financial embezzlements during his career in the French Parliament.

The affair commenced with the allegations made by French investigative website Médiapart, first accusing de Rugy of “using his parliamentary allowance to pay part of his membership fees for the green party (EELV) in 2013 and 2014, and of claiming those payments against his income tax in 2015.”

Earlier this week Médiapart claimed the ex-minister and his wife Severine Servat-de Rugy spent more than US$70.000 on refurbishments of their official ministerial apartment, with some $19.000 used for Ms. de Rugy’s dressing room, all out of taxpayers’ pockets.

The minister’s office, as France24 reported, tried to explain that de Rugy had to use the services of “special craftsmen,” as the apartment is in the 18th century edifice within the Paris’ 17th arrondissment – Batignolles-Monceau, on the right bank of the Seine.

Between October 2017 and June 2018 de Rugy, according to Médiapart, organized more than 10 lavish dinners, including lobsters, vintage wines and champagnes from parliamentary cellars, some of which would cost more than $600 a bottle.

The dinners, reportedly, were rather private, mostly gathering friends of the de Rugy couple.

De Rugy denied the allegations and accused Médiapart of setting him up, saying on his Facebook profile he has filed a criminal complaint for defamation against them.

He also tried to explain the dinners were of the informal nature, but still linked to his job and that he “had used the events to engage with people from civil society to inform his ‘variety of public work’ as parliament speaker.”

Furthermore, in an interview with the French BFM TV last week, de Rugy tried to get ahead of the scandal by saying he has “never paid more than $33.66 for a bottle of wine,” as well as that he does not eat lobster as he is allergic to shellfish, while champagne gives him a headache, so he avoids it.

Despite the allegations, de Rugy, while announcing his resignation on Facebook, said he was committed to “transparency” in political life and added that “at this painful time, I remain proud of the actions undertaken with the support of the parliamentary majority to implement major transformations for climate, energy, water, the fight against waste and biodiversity.”

OCCRP | July 17, 2019
https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10229-french-minister-resigns-over-lavish-dinners-scandal