In the electioneering mood of France at the turn of the year, the good advice is not, as in a whodunit, cherchez la femme but cherchez l’argent. The first round of balloting in the presidential poll takes place April 24, and Paris is full of plots and the scent of putrefaction as political scandals follow one another in quick succession. Since Socialists are prominent in some of them, the left loses part of its reputation for clean hands, but,the timing of these affairs and the differential treatment of the culprits cast doubts on the.independence of the judiciary. Since much of the corruption is connected with the rapidly rising cost of politics, proposals are afoot to bring some law into this jungle. Yet can one seriously reverse the trend in a country where a book attacking egalitarianism is a best seller, the reputation of an actress is .h&t by the vagaries of the money market and- even the manuscript of the most famous document of political honesty–Emile Zola’s "J’accuse"–gets involved. in a sordid story of inheritance? The common theme, of these Parisian winter tales is a hackneyed postwar tune: Money is the root of all evil.
A Socialist Dr. Strangelove. The first scandal affecting the Socialist Party is the case of Christian Nucci, a former Minister of Overseas Cooperation and Development (essentially with Africa) in the government of Laurent Fabius. Nucci and his chief of staff, Yves Chalier, are accused of having used public funds under false pretenses by channeling them through a phony company. Some of this double accounting is routine. Secret payments for, say, security arrangements during a Franco-African conference are placed under another item. But Chalier apparently spent around $1 million for personal purposes, such as the purchase of a forty-seven room chateau, and Nucci roughly a quarter that amount, mainly for his electoral campaign. For offenses committed in office a minister can only be tried by a High Court of Justice selected from his fellow parliamentarians. It is only the third time since 1815 that this procedure, which requires the prior approval of the National Assembly and the Senate, has been used. The ruling coalition, which has a majority in both chambers, carried last December the final vote that set the trial in motion, timed to coincide with the electoral campaign.
The second case is that of Luchaire, the arms manufacturer that, between 1983 and 1986, despite an embargo, supplied Iran with artillery shells, pretending that the shipments were for another destination. The Socialist government, after a brief investigation, turned the matter over to the courts March 12, 1986–that is to say, three days before the election that removed it from office. The Chirac government slowed down me judicial proceedings by ordering a new internal inquiry. Although it received the report last June, it waited until November to leak the text to the press and then publish it officially. The document hurt. the Socialists by reporting that François Mitterrand and his then-Minister of Defense, Charles Hernu, had been informed of the breach. It also cast doubt on the actual conduct of a senior member of Hernu’s staff and, suggested that one of the Minister’s friends got a commission of nearly $500,000 in this shady business.
Before discussing, the third case, some preliminary remarks are necessary. It is an open secret in Paris that political parties receive a lot of money illegally. The Gaullists were known at one time as the real estate party, since this was their main source of income. (A friendly realtor would buy a piece of arable land not authorized for construction, then be granted a building permit and share with the party a portion of the huge profit from the resale of the land.) Another custom, common to all parties, is to employ sympathetic contractors on public works projects in towns or regions they control. The builders overcharge–and give back part of the money under the table. Finally, some businesses send bills for, say, printing leaflets, not to the party but to firms willing to put them fraudulently on their books in return for future political favors. The only problem is to avoid getting caught. The Socialist organization in Lyons forgot this, and its case is being brought to justice by the government at a politically opportune moment. The principal figure in this organization is the very same Hernu.