France court acquits former justice minister François Bayrou of fraud charges News
France court acquits former justice minister François Bayrou of fraud charges

The Paris Criminal Court acquitted former justice minister François Bayrou for his alleged involvement in a fraudulent scheme that embezzled European public funds on Monday. However, the court found another eight defendants, including five former members of the European Parliament (MEPs) guilty and passed jail sentences ranging from ten to eighteen months.

At issue in the case were eleven disputed contracts between 2005 and 2017, at a total price of 293,000 euros. They allegedly were the means for the French political party MoDem (Democratic Movement) and the Union for French Democracy Party (UDF) to misappropriate public funds from the European Parliament and to pay their parliamentary assistants. The prosecution alleged that François Bayrou, as the president of the French political party MoDem (Democratic Movement), was the main decision-maker in planning the whole scheme. The court acquitted François Bayrou “for the benefit of the doubt”, as local media reported.

However, eight other defendants were found guilty of participating in the fraudulent scheme. These defendants included Modem’s financial director Alexandre Nardella, treasurer Jean-Jacques Jegou, former Minister of Justice Michel Mercier, and five former MEPs Janelly Fourtou, Thierry Cornillet, Bernard Lehideux, Anne Laperrouze and Jean-Luc Bennahmias. According to local media coverage, the court imposed on one of the former MEPs Jannely Fourtou a one-year jail sentence and a fine of 50,000 euros, higher than the prosecution’s requisitions.

Following the acquittal, François Bayrou said that “it’s a 7-year nightmare which has ended with an uncontested decision from the court.” Endorsing Emmanuel Macron’s running for the presidential election in 2017, François Bayrou was appointed as the Minister of Justice. Nonetheless, he resigned a month later after he was charged with fraud. The acquittal would allow François Bayrou to hold a public office again but he refused to comment on his plan in the upcoming 2027 presidential election. 

Shortly after François Bayrou’s resignation and the investigation of the embezzlement accusations, the EU implemented a directive that provided for criminal offences and sanctions to deter fraud and other illegal activities affecting the EU’s financial interests. Recently in 2023, the European Anti-Fraud Office signed a working arrangement with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) to conduct independent investigations into fraud, corruption and irregularities involving EU funds. In 2022, Eurojust handled 263 cases relating to crimes against the financial interests of the EU.