New French MEP under fire for role in "Bygmalion affair"
Revelations of fraud from Jérôme Lavrilleux, Nicolas Sarkozy's former campaigner turned MEP, have sparked controversy within the UMP. The future of the newly elected legislator is now uncertain. EurActiv France reports.
Two days after the National Front's victory in the European elections, the UMP, which came second, saw its president Jean-François Copé resign after his entourage was involved in a fraud scandal.
Jérôme Lavrilleux, the director of Jean-François Copé's office and newly elected MEP, went on French television to admit that some of Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign meetings were overcharged at the expense of the Bygmalion agency, in order to cover up campaign costs.
Lavrilleux, who was vice-director of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign, has put a question mark over €11 million which was paid by the UMP without being accounted for in the 2012 campaign costs. Lavrilleux claimed that neither Copé nor Sarkozy were informed of the scheme, and has cleared them from what has become known as the “Bygmalion affair”.
Copé resigned as leader of the UMP, France’s main opposition party. He will stand down as party president on 15 June, and the direction of the party will be taken over by a trio of former ministers: Alain Juppé, Jean-Pierre Raffarin and François Fillon. An extraordinary party conference is expected to be held before the end of October.
Copé had promised to provide all necessary information on the Bygmalion affair after the European elections.
Following his resignation, the future of the newly elected MEP, Jérôme Lavrilleux, is uncertain. Elected on 25 May, the MEP will benefit from parliamentary immunity from 1 July, when he officially becomes a member of the European Parliament. Up until this date, nothing can stop the French authorities from approaching him.
Lavrilleux claimed he would not benefit from immunity, but failed to say whether he would step down from his new position.
In the European Parliament, demands to remove parliamentary immunity are many, and they are almost always granted.
In France, the European elections on 25 May 2014 saw the National Front come out on top with 25% of the vote and 24 MEPs, ahead of the French centrists, the UMP, and the French Socialist Party, which are currently in government. After organising and taking part in the UMP's failed EU election campaign, Jean-François Copé's position in the party was further called into question when he was connected with a fraud scandal. It involves falsified invoices during Nicolas Sarkozy’s unsuccessful re-election bid in 2012.
The French MEP Rachida Dati claimed on RTL (May 28) that "if there was an abuse of confidence, there will be condemnations and damages. Activists [who gave money to the UMP] could make a complaint.” She also questioned the new trio put in charge of the UMP.
The MEP said on French radio that "Jérôme Lavrilleux should explain himself".
President of France, François Hollande, commented on the Bygmalion affair on Tuesday night (27 May): "faced with the far-right, all weaknesses become mistakes."