PARIS — French prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation Tuesday into accusations that Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac earlier in his career had a secret Swiss bank account to avoid France’s high taxes.
The announcement that an investigation was being launched, from the Paris prosecutor’s office, was described as an attempt to get to the bottom of the reports from the investigative website Mediapart, and not as an indication that authorities have their own reasons to suspect Cahuzac of tax evasion.
Nevertheless, the judicial inquiry was considered an embarrassment for the government, which has been criticized by the conservative opposition for enacting stiff tax increases since taking over in May. Cahuzac, as budget minister, has carried the main responsibility for tax policy.
The tax rate has caused particular controversy in recent days because of a decision by French actor Gerard Depardieu to renounce his citizenship and move abroad to escape what he called an unreasonable fiscal policy. With much fanfare, Depardieu was handed a Russian passport Saturday by President Vladimir Putin in what was interpreted here as a jab at France.