World

France's embattled justice chief unveils clean politics bill

France's government on Wednesday presented a bill on cleaning up political ethics after years of corruption scandals — even as investigations haunt members of President Emmanuel Macron's new government.

Justice Minister Francois Bayrou unveiled the draft law on "restoring trust" in politics to the Cabinet. It is the first major legislation by Macron's administration.

It's expected to easily pass parliament, where Macron's party is on track to win a crushing majority in elections Sunday.

Yet the bill, a key Macron campaign promise to "moralize" France's political life, is already clouded.

Bayrou's centrist party Modem is under investigation for possible misuse of European Parliament funds.

The minister for European affairs, Marielle de Sarnez, also a member of Modem, is among several French politicians facing a similar probe.

And the territorial cohesion minister Richard Ferrand is under investigation for his past business practices. They all deny wrongdoing.

The new bill notably would ban lawmakers and government members from hiring family members. About a hundred lawmakers —out of 577— employed at least one family member during the last term at the National Assembly.

The presidential campaign had been deeply disturbed by an investigation of conservative candidate François Fillon. His wife, Penelope, was richly paid as a parliamentary aide, allegedly without actually working.

The bill would create a new sentence enabling judges to ban a person convicted for fraud or corruption-related crimes from running for an elected office for up to 10 years.

France's Senate and the National Assembly would have to set specific rules to prevent conflicts of interest.

Lawmakers will be asked to report their expenses — a first in the country. Until now, lawmakers get monthly allowances to cover expenses they didn't have to justify.

Bayrou is mired in controversy following a phone call last week to the head of the investigative team of reporters of Radio France, which was looking into alleged misuse of European funds by the Modem party.

The incident has been denounced by journalism associations as an attempt by the justice minister to put pressure on reporters.

French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Wednesday that any attempt by government members to influence media is "harmful" to democratic practices.