French government stands by under-fire Minister

News website claims that Environment Minister spent more than €63,000 of taxpayers' money renovating official apartment - and hosted lavish dinner parties while in former role

An under-fire French cabinet minister still has the support of leading government colleagues, despite a series of revelations - including claims that he hosted luxury dinners for friends at taxpayers' expense when he was speaker of the Assembly.

A report on the Mediapart website said Environment Minister François de Rugy hosted several dinners during his tenure as speaker between 2017 and 2018 at his then-official residence. It claimed the dinner parties for between 10 and 30 guests a time were organised by his journalist wife Severine de Rugy.

Mr Rugy said the events were all work-related.

"These were not dinners between friends. These were informal working dinners with people who have relations with a political authority," he said, dismissing the report as "misleading" and "tendentious".

The website published images of Mr Rugy at a candlelit table, and his wife with a 2004 Mouton-Rothschild wine which costs €500 a bottle. Another picture shows a dish of giant lobsters.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said Mr Rugy retained the support of President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe following the revelations.

But the revelations did not end there. A second Mediapart report on Thursday said taxpayers have funded €63,000 of work on the Minister's official apartment since he and his wife moved in at the end of 2018. According to the website, repainting the residence cost €35,930, while another €4,639 was spent on carpets and parquet flooring, €6,057 was spent updating bathrooms - and a dressing room was built at a cost of €16,996.

The Minister's office said that "the cost of this work" was justified by the "particular character of the building" and the need to use "qualified craftsmen".

Mr Rugy's entourage told that paintwork, which had "not been redone since 2003", was "cracked" and showed " stains and traces of damp", and that the floors were damaged.

It said an email, dated 16 November, 2018, referred to "the current obsolescence of various rooms, which is the result of the absence of work, including refreshment, for several years".

Several LREM MPs have called for Mr Rugy to appear before Bureau of the Assembly or the Conference of Presidents, where he could face sanction. Aurore Bergé - party spokeswoman and MP for Yvelines - said that he should supply the appropriate committees with a list of the guests at these events so they can determine whether they are business guests or personal friends.

"If these are private friends, there will be a problem and the need for expenses to be reimbursed," she told franceinfo.

Meanwhile, rival parties have called for him to resign.

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