Friday, May 11, 2012
French PM favourite sees no taint from conviction
NANTES, France (Reuters) - Socialist Jean-Marc Ayrault, a favourite to become prime minister under French president-elect Francois Hollande, said on Thursday a 15-year-old conviction for an improperly tendered town hall contract did not taint him personally.
Ayrault, who is mayor of the northwestern city of Nantes and the Socialists' head in the National Assembly, received a six-month suspended prison sentence in 1997 and a fine worth roughly 4,500 euros for a printing contract for a local newspaper that was awarded without a public tender.
Responding to media reports on the case, Ayrault said he had taken responsibility for the affair as mayor, but his personal integrity had never been brought into question.
"It was 15 years ago. I have never hidden anything, especially not to the people of Nantes who re-elected me twice. It's an affair which did not involve me personally but which I took responsibility for as mayor," Ayrault posted on his Facebook page.
"My personal integrity has never been questioned. There was never any question of personal enrichment or political financing. I am an honest man and I will remain an honest man."
Ayrault, a moderate Socialist and Germanophile has been seen as first in line for the job of prime minister under Hollande, who will be sworn in on Tuesday after defeating conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's runoff vote.
Some French media are speculating that the Nantes conviction could count against Ayrault as Hollande has said he does not want anybody on his team with legal skeletons in their closet.
A source close to Ayrault told Reuters that he had not benefitted personally from the contract and noted even political opponents in Nantes had never tried to use the case against him as it had involved management errors and not misconduct.
A former German teacher and long-time Hollande ally known for his pragmatic approach, Ayrault has emerged as frontrunner for prime minister ahead of Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, more of an old-school leftist.
Socialist insiders say Ayrault's understanding of Germany's language and culture could make him a bridge-builder with Berlin as Hollande challenges German-imposed austerity with a call for a new focus on growth.
(Reporting by Guillaume Frouin; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Michael Roddy)
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