France's first lady has surrendered the presidential credit card that came with her husband's election victory in May, after a newspaper reported that the bills were direct-debited to a public treasury account.

The presidential palace insisted on Wednesday that Cecilia Sarkozy had been thrifty, using it just twice in the less than two months that Nicolas Sarkozy has been in power — "for lunch invitations."

Nevertheless, Le Canard Enchaine's scoop had turned the first lady's plastic into something of a political hot potato. The investigative and satirical weekly reported that the bills went to the public account used for the presidential budget. Cecilia Sarkozy paid for two meals — $175 and $370 — with the card, it reported, citing the presidential Elysee Palace.

The palace said Wednesday that she handed in the card after the newspaper's report.

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"Given the questions that were raised ... Madame Sarkozy preferred to stop using her bank card to avoid all misunderstanding," said government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez.

He said that she, like other first ladies before her, has expenses that come with the job and that "a bank card was attributed to her for reasons of ease of payment and traceability," and in an effort at greater transparency.

Until now, he added, presidents' wives had used their bodyguards' cards.

Emmanuelle Mignon, one of President Sarkozy's aides, told Le Monde that she proposed the card to Cecilia Sarkozy. "I thought it was a simpler, faster, more modern method to respond to her professional expenses, such as protocol gifts for wives of foreign heads of state, bouquets of flowers," the newspaper quoted her as saying.

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