France’s justice minister Éric Dupond-Moretti is to be tried by a special tribunal over allegations he abused his position to retaliate against judges against whom he held grudges from his career as a defence attorney.
A panel of three judges decided on Monday that there was enough evidence to send the case to trial before the Cour de justice de la République, the only legal body in France entitled to judge ministers for alleged wrongdoing while in office.
Lawyers for Dupond-Moretti told Agence France-Presse that they would challenge the decision, and continued to maintain his innocence.
Dupond-Moretti, who rose to fame for defending rogue Société Générale trader Jérôme Kerviel and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, is the first sitting justice minister to face such a trial. Transparency International France called for his resignation on Monday saying that letting him continue would “feed a sentiment of public mistrust against the political class”.
Spokespeople for the Élysée Palace and the prime minister’s office did not return requests for comment.
The case has been a headache for President Emmanuel Macron, who nominated Dupond-Moretti in 2020 and gave him a brief to reform the justice system, which has been plagued by budget and staff shortfalls that have caused long delays to cases from divorces to serious crimes.
Soon after Dupond-Moretti became minister, several unions representing judges and anti-corruption agency Anticor filed a complaint alleging that he “took advantage illegally” of his position as minister to retaliate against judges who had handled cases relating to himself or his clients.
Macron backed Dupond-Moretti to stay in office even when he was put under official investigation in July 2021 — a step short of an indictment, according to the French judicial system. But the case has worsened tensions between the minister and the judges and legal staff who work under him.
“The justice minister’s situation is unprecedented . . . not only for the type of infractions he is accused of, which represent a grave breach of probity . . . but also for how, despite the responsibilities of his position, he has repeatedly called into question the impartiality of the process,” said the two unions in a statement.
A key allegation revolves around the fact that shortly before being appointed by Macron, Dupond-Moretti filed a lawsuit alleging his privacy had been invaded by France’s national prosecutor for financial crimes (PNF). He accused the body of abusing its power by accessing his phone records, and those of other lawyers, during a probe into alleged graft by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
He withdrew his complaint after being named justice minister. Soon after, he ordered a disciplinary inquiry into two judges from the PNF and their then boss, Éliane Houlette.
Former French ministers who have been tried by the special tribunal since its inception in 1993 include Christine Lagarde, who in 2016 was convicted of negligence in public office for failing to prevent a fraudulent €403mn payout that the French state made to entrepreneur Bernard Tapie when she served as finance minister.
Béatrice Brugère, a judge who is part of a union not involved in the complaints against Dupond-Moretti, said it was up to political leaders to decide whether it was a good idea for the minister to continue in his post.
“For Macron’s government, which sought to put integrity at the centre of its programme, it’s not a good signal if he is convicted,” she said.