The French President’s chief of staff has been indicted by the national financial crimes prosecutor over a conflict of interest relating to his alleged links with Swiss-Italian shipping company MSC, the prosecutor’s office has said.
The prosecutor’s office “confirms Alexis Kohler, currently the Secretary-General of the French presidency, has been put under formal investigation for unlawful taking of interest,” it said in a statement.
President Macron’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Le Figaro newspaper said the President had decided to keep Mr Kohler in the job despite the investigation.
“(Alexis Kohler) strongly challenges having committed any crime. The subsequent procedure, to which he now has access, will enable him to prove his innocence, ” his lawyer Eric Dezeuze told Reuters.
President Macron’s office has said before that Mr Kohler had at no time hidden his family ties to the Aponte family that founded and still owns MSC.
The investigation comes after anti-graft group Anticor filed a complaint accusing Kohler of breaking conflict-of-interest rules after it emerged he had family links to the Italian owners of MSC, for whom he had worked in between two government jobs.
MSC, which runs cruise ships, is one of the biggest clients of French shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique, the maker of the Queen Mary 2, which the French government has tried to restructure several times over the past decades.
The complaint alleges a conflict of interest based on Kohler’s dealings with MSC while he was working for the French state holdings agency between 2012-2014 and later as a senior official in Macron’s team at the finance ministry in 2014-2016.
Mr Kohler left the finance ministry in 2016 when Macron stepped down as economy minister.
He then moved to Geneva to take up a position on MSC’s board. Nine months later, Mr Kohler quit that post to join the Elysee following Mr Macron’s election in 2017.
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Under French law, a formal investigation means there is evidence implicating a suspect, but does not mean the person being investigated has been charged.
The person can be charged at a later date if further evidence emerges against them, or the investigation can be dropped.
Mr Kohler’s indictment comes as Emmanuel Macron’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti was told he will stand trial before a special judicial body for suspected conflict of interest in two cases on Monday.
Mr Dupond-Moretti, who was one of France’s most famous criminal lawyers before President Emmanuel Macron made him justice minister, is accused of having used his position to act against personal rivals within the judiciary, which he denies.
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His lawyer, Remi Lorrain, told Reuters that his client would appeal the decision to open the trial.
“The minister is extremely confident. He will not resign,” said Lorrain.
The judicial body, the Court of Justice of the Republic, deals with suspected crimes or offences committed by members of the government during the exercise of their functions. Since its creation in 1993, it has only held eight formal trials.
Past defendants before the jury, which is composed of lawmakers and judges of France’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, have included former finance minister and current head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde. She was found guilty of negligence over a government payout.
Mr Dupond-Moretti joined the French government in 2020 after being a vocal critic of what he said were France’s excessively lengthy criminal trial proceedings and its overcrowded prisons.