French interior minister Bruno Le Roux has resigned a few hours after prosecutors opened an investigation into a report that he hired his two daughters for a series of temporary parliamentary jobs, starting when they were 15 and 16 years old. President Francois Hollande said he had accepted Mr Le Roux’s resignation after a meeting with Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the Elysee Palace.
He named the country’s low-profile trade and tourism minister, Matthias Fekl, as the new interior minister.
France’s national financial prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation on Tuesday after TMC television reported on Monday night that Mr Le Roux employed his daughters as parliamentary assistants for a total salary amount of 55,000 euro (£47,600).
The office said the preliminary investigation into the allegations disclosed in the TV programme is being led by the French police agency charged with fighting corruption and financial and tax wrongdoing.
While it is legal in France for politicians to hire family members, the TMC report suggests that Mr Le Roux’s daughters did not perform all of the work.
Mr Le Roux’s daughters, now 23 and 20, allegedly started working as parliamentary aides for their father over short holiday contracts when they were 15 and 16 and Mr Le Roux was a politician in the French National Assembly.
“These temporary and official contracts, in accordance with the legal rules of the National Assembly, all corresponded, of course, to works actually carried out,” Mr Le Roux insisted as he announced his resignation from Bobigny, a suburb outside Paris.
Mr Le Roux, a member of the Socialist Party, was quoted by TMC as saying his daughters worked for him during school holidays to gain experience.
A similar scandal around employing family members has deeply damaged conservative Francois Fillon’s presidential bid.
Mr Fillon was handed preliminary charges last week for allegedly using taxpayers’ money to pay family members – his British wife and two children – for jobs that may not have existed.
The TMC channel said Mr Le Roux’s staff at the interior ministry confirmed the dates of the 24 holiday jobs that his daughters landed between 2009 and 2016.
Mr Le Roux himself has told the TMC programme his daughters never got permanent jobs and has suggested their jobs were not fake – in contrast to what investigators suspect in Mr Fillon’s case. “They did work,” Mr Le Roux insisted in an earlier interview with the TMC journalist.
“Of course, my daughters worked with me during summer times, especially or during school holiday periods, but never permanently,” he said earlier in March.
Jean-Christophe Picard, president of the anti-corruption association Anticor, said that Mr Le Roux had to resign to avoid any conflict of interest since he was the top boss of the police officers investigating his case.
The swift judicial reaction to the report on Mr Le Roux’s daughters reflects a marked shift in French attitudes towards corruption in politics, notably since the new position of a national financial prosecutor was created three years ago.
Some of France’s most prominent politicians – including former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac – have been embroiled in corruption scandals involving accusations from shady campaign financing to nepotism.
But the French public is growing frustrated with a political establishment it sees as enriching itself while average workers suffer, and there is growing public pressure for transparency.