Cahuzac resigns after legal investigation is launched The French minister-in-charge of clamping down on tax evasion resigned last night after allegations that he evaded taxes with a secret Swiss bank account.

Jerome Cahuzac, the budget minister, who has vehemently and repeatedly denied the accusations, stood down hours after it was announced a legal investigation had been opened into the accusations.

The launching of legal proceedings for “fiscal fraud” did not specifically name Mr. Cahuzac but centres on claims that he hid money from the French tax authorities, first in Switzerland and then in Singapore. It followed a preliminary inquiry opened in January to determine whether a voice on a recording of an alleged conversation between Mr. Cahuzac and his wealth manager in 2000 was indeed that of the minister.

Last night Mr. Cahuzac continued to insist he was innocent, and lambasted what he said were defamatory accusations. He said he had resigned for the “good of the government”.

A spokesperson for Francois Hollande said the president had accepted Cahuzac’s resignation and removed him from office. In a statement, he thanked Cahuzac for his “talent and competence”, and said he applauded his decision to resign to “better defend his honour”.

French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault added that Mr. Cahuzac had resigned in order to concentrate on his legal defence and “to not embarrass the government”.

“The prime minister regrets but understands his [Cahuzac’s] decision and thanks him for his work in government,” said a statement from the PM’s office.

It is the first serious scandal to hit Mr. Hollande since his election last May.

The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that Mr. Cahuzac, 60, a former MP and cardiologist who became a hair transplant surgeon, has headed Mr. Hollande’s efforts to cut its public deficit and stamp out tax evasion.

He had appeared to be in the clear last month after the Swiss authorities said they could find no trace of an account. However, the French investigative website Mediapart, which broke the original story, insisted it had evidence.

Mediapart claimed in January to have evidence that Mr. Cahuzac had an undeclared account at the Swiss bank UBS for 20 years until 2010. The website alleged he travelled to Switzerland to close the Geneva—based account and transfer the money in it to Singapore shortly before he was made head of the parliamentary finance commission in February 2010.

An alleged recording of a conversation between Mr. Cahuzac and his wealth manager in 2000 about his embarrassment over the Swiss account was published by Mediapart. “What bothers me is that I still have an account open with UBS ... UBS is not necessarily the most hidden of banks,” he is alleged to have said.

Mr. Cahuzac insisted the voice in the recording was not his, and announced he was suing Mediapart for defamation. “I do not have, I have never had a foreign [bank] account. Not now. Not before,” he told MPs in December.

Last night Mediapart said it had been vindicated: “For more than three months now, Mediapart has put forward information that has today been confirmed, validated and verified by the prosecutor’s office in Paris and investigators.” One or several independent investigating judges will be appointed in the next few days to delve into the Mediapart recording. Europe1 radio said three witnesses who had heard the recording had recognised Mr. Cahuzac’s voice.

Mr. Cahuzac was replaced as budget minister by the European affairs minister, Bernard Cazeneuve.

© Guardian News & Media 2013

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