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French justice ministry searched in probe against minister

PARIS: (from L) French Prime Minister Jean Castex, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti and French Health Minister Olivier Veran leave the Elysee presidential Palace after the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris. – AFP

PARIS: French police were searching the ministry of justice yesterday as part of a conflict of interest probe against the justice minister, a former star defence lawyer, a judicial source said. Eric Dupond-Moretti was named justice minister last summer in a controversial move by President Emmanuel Macron that annoyed some magistrates and prosecutors, who felt the appointment of the flamboyant lawyer to be deeply inappropriate.

The Law Court of the Republic (CJR), the only French authority with the power to try ministers for alleged abuses carried out while in office, opened a probe in January against Dupond-Moretti into conflicts of interest owing to his past job. The inquiry was opened following complaints filed by three magistrate unions and the Anticor anti-corruption association.

The French weekly Canard Enchaine reported this week that Dupond-Moretti will himself soon be summoned by CJR magistrates to be questioned. In an unusual move, Prime Minister Jean Castex was himself questioned by the CJR as a witness in the case on June 7. At the heart of the accusations is the administrative investigation ordered by Dupond-Moretti in September against three magistrates of the powerful National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF).

They took part in an investigation aimed at identifying the mole who allegedly informed former president Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog that they were being wiretapped in a corruption case. Both have since been sentenced in that case to one year in jail, though it is unlikely they will serve any time behind bars. As a defence lawyer, Dupond-Moretti-an intimidating figure who has likened the courtroom to a theatre-earned the nickname of the “Acquittator”, a reference to the Terminator films, for his track record in getting clients acquitted.

Dupond-Moretti swore as recently as 2018 that he would never be justice minister, saying no one would have the “utterly absurd” idea-“and frankly I would never accept such a thing”. In 2019, he even starred in his own one-man theatre show called “Eric Dupond-Moretti to the Bar”. When he was named justice minister in a summer 2020 reshuffle, the head of the USM magistrates union, Celine Parisot, said that appointing a person “who is so divisive and who has such scorn for the judiciary” was tantamount to “a declaration of war”. – AFP

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