In Televised Address, French President Denies Covering For Disgraced Budget Minister



PARIS – French President Francois Hollande appeared in a brief televised address broadcast on Wednesday, after his former Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac admitted he was guilty of tax fraud.

In the pre-recorded broadcast, Hollande said Cahuzac had “fooled the highest authorities of the country: the president, the government, the Parliament and the French people,” reports Le Monde. “It is a shock, a serious breech of morals.”

Hollande insisted that his former Budget minister had “not received any protection other than the presumption of innocence,” adding that “The failings of one man must make us even more demanding and uncompromising when it comes to the exemplary conduct of required of elected officials.”

Hollande pledged three reforms, reports le Monde, including banning elected officials with a fraud or corruption conviction from holding public office; publishing the personal assets of all members of government and Parliament, and improving judicial independence.

On Tuesday, after four months of adamently denying wrongdoing, and facing a judicial investigation that had forced him to resign, Cahuzac finally confessed on his blog that he had hidden 600,000 euros in accounts in Switzerland and Singapore for more than two decades.

“I was caught in a spiral of lies and I did wrong,” he wrote in his blog. “I ask the president, the prime minister, my former colleagues in the government to forgive me for the damage I have caused them,” he wrote, saying he was “devastated by remorse.”

After his admission, he was charged with “laundering the proceeds of tax fraud,” reports France 24. Until he resigned two weeks ago, Cahuzac, 60, had been leading the government’s crusade against tax fraud and tax havens. If convicted, he faces five years in prison.

The scandal broke in December 2012, when French investigative website Mediapart published a report saying that Cahuzac had an undisclosed bank account at Swiss bank UBS. Cahuzac repeatedly denied the accusation, threatening legal action against Mediapart, and going on record in Parliament, to say he had never had bank accounts abroad.

After Cahuzac’s admission on Tuesday, the French media were quick to show their outrage:

Liberation’s front page reads: “Unworthy.”

In its editorial, the daily writes: “It’s more than a shame, it’s an ignominy. With his cover-ups and lies, Jerome Cahuzac did more than just tarnish his reputation. He has cast opprobrium on this actions, discredited the political discourse and raised doubts on the authority of the president."

For L’Humanité, “The political scandal is huge. The man who held France’s budget in his hands, the man who piloted the fiscal administration and led the fight against fraud was himself a cheat.”

La Voix du Nord wrote that “In the realm of big lies in front of the microphones and cameras, only Lance Armstrong comes close to Jerome Cahuzac.”

The front page of Le Monde: "The Cahuzac bomb shakes Hollande's presidency."

A photo circulated widely on Twitter today, showing Cahuzac speaking at a podium that reads: "Fighting against tax fraud":

Cahuzac, la photo qui tue !…

— Thomas Hervé (@thomasherve14) April 3, 2013

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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