France: Macron ally faces nepotism allegations, amid cleanup

French President Emmanuel Macron's effort to clean up politics has suffered its first blow, with a newspaper report suggesting a dubious property deal by one of his ministers.

Social Cohesion Minister Richard Ferrand denies wrongdoing.

Investigative paper Le Canard Enchaine reported Wednesday that in 2011, an insurance company then run by Ferrand struck a rental deal with a company owned by Ferrand's romantic partner for 42,000 euros ($47,000) a year. The paper also says Ferrand hired his son as a parliamentary aide for a gross salary of 8,704 euros for a "few months."

Ferrand's office said in a statement that he did nothing illegal.

Macron wants a new law on the "moralization" of politics that could forbid politicians from hiring family members. Corruption scandals stained previous administrations.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said the minister's honesty is not in question, given the rental deal was legal.

Yet he acknowledged the current context raises "legitimate questions."

"what wasn't illegal before is not acceptable today," Castaner said in reference to hiring family members. "We need to establish clear rules that will apply to everyone, as soon as possible."

The presidential campaign was troubled by a major scandal surrounding conservative candidate Francois Fillon. Prosecutors started investigating allegations that Fillon's family benefited from cushy taxpayer-funded jobs they allegedly didn't do.