François Bayrou was acquitted by a Paris court in a case of embezzlement of public funds. Eight others, including five former MEPs were convicted.
The criminal court in Paris on February 5 gave Bayrou, a key ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, “the benefit of the doubt” in a high-profile case concerning misuse of European parliamentary assistants.
“It’s a seven-year nightmare that has just ended,” the 72-year-old leader of the centrist MoDem party said after the verdict.
Bayrou and 10 others were tried for allegedly providing fictitious party-assistant jobs for individuals in the European Parliament between 2005 and 2017. Those individuals were allegedly paid from the relevant public funds.
He faced a potential maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of €1 million and 10 years of parliamentary ineligibility for “complicity in the embezzlement of public funds”.
— François Bayrou (@bayrou) February 5, 2024
The prosecutor’s office had requested a 30-month suspended prison sentence, a fine of €70,000 and a three-year suspended ineligibility term against Bayrou, whom they presented as the “instigator” of the fraudulent system.
Against the others, the prosecution has demanded suspended prison sentences ranging from eight to 20 months and fines of between €10,000 and €30,000, along with suspended ineligibility penalties.
When the initial charges were made in 2017, Bayrou was forced to resign his post as justice minister after one month in office.
The Parliament, which has suffered losses of almost €300,000, was a “civil party” in the case.
On February 5, Bayrou and two others were acquitted.
“It does not appear from any document” that Bayrou asked MEPs “to fictitiously employ parliamentary assistants”, the president of the court stated.
“There is no evidence that Mr Bayrou was aware of the non-performance of the contracts of parliamentary assistants,” he added.
“It is very likely” that some incidents occurred with “the authorisation of Mr Bayrou”, he said but added that “there is no evidence of this authorisation”, before acquitting him “with the benefit of the doubt”.
Eight other individuals, five of whom were former MEPs along with Michel Mercier, an ex-French finance minister, received suspended prison terms of between 10 and 18 months, fines that varied from €10,000 to €50,000 and two years of suspended ineligibility.
As a legal body, the UDF, the predecessor of the MoDem party, was fined €150,000, of which €50,000 is suspended. Similarly, the MoDem was fined €350,000, of which €50,000 is also suspended.
Despite Bayrou’s party having to pay €400,000, the court did not find any evidence linking the party leader to any fraud.
After the verdict, the centrist politician stated: “I never committed the facts on which the accusation was built, never … There has never been a system or personal enrichment.”
The prosecution and those found guilty have 10 days to appeal the decision.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office may ask for a new trial for every individual involved, including the exonerated parties, should appeals be filed.
The convicted MEPs are: Thierry Cornillet, Bernard Lehideux, Anne Laperrouze, Jean-Luc Bennahmias and Janelly Fourtou.
Similar penalties for “complicity” were also imposed on former MP Jean-Jacques Jégou, MoDem financial director Alexandre Nardella and Mercier.
The court found Stéphane Thérou, Bayrou’s former chief of staff and the only former assistant accused in this case, not guilty.
The case came to light following a claim by Sophie Montel, MEP for Marine Le Pen’s Front National at the time, in response to a report that targeted the party, which Montel subsequently left.
In that case, Le Pen, her party and other executives were brought to court in December on similar charges of embezzlement between 2009 and 2017, totalling €6.8 million. They will stand trial later this year.
Bayrou’s acquittal might have repercussions in Paris, observers say, as MoDem leaders have been calling for a “rebalancing” of the Government. That comes as Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and his inner circle are seen as “too right-wing” by many – including some in Macron’s Renaissance party.
More appointments in Government are expected over the next few days.
Ils ont condamné tout le monde à part Bayrou qui est pourtant au sommet de la pyramide, ils l’ont relaxé au bénéfice du doute et il nous joue quand même l’innocence outragée.
Justice de caste, ouais…pic.twitter.com/5kefqNH2Hn
— Marcel (@realmarcel1) February 5, 2024