French court to pass verdict on justice minister Dupond-Moretti over 'conflict of interest' claims

NOV 29, 2023 LISTEN

A Paris court is due to hand down its verdict in the trial of France's justice minister, accused of conflict of interest in a case that has embarrassed President Emmanuel Macron's government.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a pugnacious former star defence lawyer, was charged in 2021 with misusing his position to settle scores with opponents from his legal career.

He is the first sitting French justice minister to stand trial.

He is being tried by the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), whose sole remit is to judge incumbent or former ministers for offences committed while in office.

Dupond-Moretti has stirred controversy as a minister, including for allegedly sexist remarks towards women reporters and for an offensive hand gesture during a parliamentary debate.

His trial relates to administrative inquiries on the minister's watch into three judges.

Investigations and 'witch hunts'

In 2014, the three judges had ordered police to examine the phone records of dozens of lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary has accused Dupond-Moretti, who also ordered a fourth judge to be investigated in an unrelated case, of a witch hunt, while the minister retorted that his accusers were "biased". 

At the start of proceedings earlier this month, Dupond-Moretti said "For me and my loved ones this trial is an infamy."

One of the minister's lawyers, Remi Lorrain, said his client "did not take revenge", calling for Dupond-Moretti to be cleared of all charges.

Resignation if convicted

Meanwhile, President Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne have supported Dupond-Moretti throughout the case.

But when asked whether he would have to resign if convicted, Borne said there was a "clear rule", which has been interpreted as meaning that he would have to go.

Technically, Dupond-Moretti could face up to five years in prison, a fine of up to €500,000 and a ban from holding public office.

But the prosecutor – while saying that Dupond-Moretti had "crossed lines that he never should have crossed" – recommended a one-year suspended prison sentence for the 62-year-old.

The CJR, which is often criticised for being soft on government members, is made up of three magistrates and 12 members of parliament.

Around 20 witnesses were summoned to testify in the case, including ex-prime minister Jean Castex and former high court chief prosecutor François Molins.