After an unprecedented trial in France, the Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, was acquitted on Wednesday in a conflict of interest case by the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), a decision which clarifies his political horizon.
The judges of the CJR, the only court that can judge acts committed by a member of the government, declared the former star of the bar “not guilty”, rejecting the prosecution’s requests for a conviction.
“The Minister of Justice will be able to continue to carry out his action within the government team, in the service of the French. I am delighted,” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne declared on the X network.
The minister expressed his “relief” on Wednesday evening and repeated that he now wanted to “turn the page”.
“It was something painful and I want to return to the ordinary course of my work,” declared the Minister of Justice on the television news of the France 2 channel.
“That’s what the law dictated. It’s obviously a satisfaction, an enormous emotion,” declared in defense of Minister Me Jacqueline Laffont.
The prosecution had requested a one-year suspended prison sentence for the minister, suspected of having taken advantage of his position to settle scores with four magistrates with whom he had had disagreements when he was a lawyer.
“The public prosecutor is studying the decision in detail to decide whether a cassation appeal will be filed,” indicated a source close to the case.
The Court considered that the minister did not have “sufficient awareness” to “expose himself” to the commission of the offense. “At no time” had he “expressed […] animosity, contempt or a desire for revenge” towards the four magistrates, declared the president of the CJR, Dominique Pauthe.
Appointed to the government to everyone’s surprise in the summer of 2020, the 62-year-old ex-criminal lawyer, an eruptive and divisive personality, has always proclaimed his innocence in this affair triggered by an unprecedented complaint from magistrates’ unions at the end of this same year.
Resignation in the balance
During the trial, the first in France of a serving Minister of Justice, his lawyers insisted that he was “not guilty of anything”, maintaining that a conviction, even “the lowest”, would result in his ” resignation.”
The rebellious deputies, from the radical left opposition, called for the CJR – made up of three professional magistrates and 12 parliamentarians from all sides – to be abolished, long accused of showing leniency.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has always maintained his confidence in his minister, whom he received after the announcement of the acquittal, despite the excitement caused by this affair in the judiciary.
In this case as in others, the head of state refused to apply an unwritten rule long observed in France according to which an accused minister had to leave office.
In 2021, it was only after his six-month suspended prison sentence that the Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises, Alain Griset, had to resign.
Invoking a “clear rule”, the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, ruled out the continuation of the Minister of Justice in office in the event of conviction.
Heavyweight in the government, on the front line against the far right, Mr. Dupond-Moretti obtained unprecedented increases in the Justice budget, afflicted in France with chronic underfunding.
Another minister, that of Labor, Olivier Dussopt, is currently on trial in Paris for a case of favoritism dating back to his mandate as mayor. The prosecution on Wednesday requested a 10-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 15,000 euros against him.
The Dupond-Moretti affair began at the end of June 2020, on the sidelines of a corruption case targeting former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The weekly Point reveals that magistrates from the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) examined detailed telephone bills from several lawyers, including Éric Dupond-Moretti, to flush out a possible mole who would have informed Mr. Sarkozy that he was being tapped.
Éric Dupond-Moretti, then one of the best-known lawyers in France, denounced a “barbouzard investigation”.
Once in government, he ordered an administrative investigation against three PNF magistrates after receiving a report ordered by his predecessor.
In another case, he decided to open an investigation against a fourth magistrate, a former judge seconded to Monaco, against whom he filed a complaint on behalf of a client for violation of the secrecy of the investigation.
The minister, “who knew better than anyone the conflicts of interest he could have with the magistrates concerned”, should have refrained from being a “decision-maker”, concluded the investigation.