World

2 ministers in French president's government under scrutiny

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday justified his choice to back two ministers in his government whose past actions have clouded the new leader's effort to clean up politics.

Macron said that only the justice system, and not media reports, can decide whether Territorial Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand and European Affairs Minister Mareille de Sarnez will be prosecuted.

Ferrand is suspected of past business practices that benefited his romantic partner during the time when he led an insurance company. Sarnez is among 19 people under investigation over their use of European Parliament assistants — allegedly for political activity in France while they were on the parliament's payroll.

Both deny any wrongdoing, but Macron's government is under pressure after he campaigned widely on what he called the "moralization of political life."

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner told reporters after a Cabinet meeting that Macron stressed the "need for transparency" in French politics. The government is now promising to establish "new rules" for a "new world" that requires more ethics into politics, Castaner said.

He acknowledged some experienced government members used to have practices from the "former world" that are legal, but not tolerated anymore by French public opinion.

Justice Minister Francois Bayrou is preparing a law, to be formally presented on June 14, aiming at establishing more transparent rules.

Weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported last week that the firm that Ferrand led struck a rental deal with a company owned by Ferrand's companion. This week, Le Monde newspaper said the insurance company had contracts with both Ferrand's ex-wife and his current partner. Ferrand denied any wrongdoing. No investigation has been open.

"The question is am I honest or not? The answer is that I am an honest man," he told France Inter radio Wednesday.

Sarnez called the allegations against her "lies," insisting her aide did actually work for her at the European parliament.

During the presidential campaign, conservative candidate Francois Fillon was at the center of the scandal when press reports revealed his wife, Penelope, was richly paid as a parliamentary aide, allegedly without actually working. French prosecutors have opened a probe into the allegations.