Will Scandals Drown Democracy in France?

Earlier cases of illegal foreign money, still under investigation, may also impact the French conservative camp. Was some money linked to navy contracts with Saudi Arabia (the sale of frigates) and Pakistan (the sale of submarines) used for Edouard Balladur’s presidential campaign in 1995, and was Sarkozy, then a close supporter of Balladur, involved?

And what about an even earlier -- and even more obscure -- case: the sale of six frigates to the Taiwanese navy (an episode which may have involved both socialists and conservatives)?

Many of these matters should have been classified by now. However, new facts and new witnesses, or new links between one case and another, keep popping up almost routinely. Ziad Takieddine, a Lebanese born intermediary who was instrumental in the Saudi and Pakistani contracts of the early 1990s, was also involved in dealings with Libya in the mid-2000s. Since 2012, he has been one of the most vocal denouncers of Sarkozy and his friends.

Beyond illegal foreign money, much illegal domestic money can be found as well. Sarkozy and the conservatives are being investigated regarding undeclared personal donations by the slightly senile Liliane Bettencourt, the richest woman in France (along with her daughter, she owns L’Oréal). However, the Left is in as much trouble as the Right in this respect.

Jerome Cahuzac, the socialist minister of the budget until last month, was keeping an undeclared Swiss bank account and lied publicly about it. Prominent socialist leaders in Marseilles, France’s largest city after Paris, are under investigation for mafia-like practices (President Hollande was summoned as a witness). Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of IMF and a former socialist senior minister, is being investigated for ties with procurers in Lille; some wonder whether there might be a link with the local socialist administration. Even the case of Thomas Fabius, the 32-year-old son of the current socialist foreign minister and former prime minister Laurent Fabius, raises concern.

Can the French trust their judges, at least? When it comes to first-class investigative magistrates like Renaud Van Ruymbeke, the main investigator in the Taiwan frigates affair and many other cases, the answer is yes. However, many judges are seen as partial and politically motivated; in particular the members of Syndicat de la Magistrature (SM), a left-wing magistrates union. A few days ago, French TV journalist Clément Weill-Raynal videotaped the "Ass***** Wall" (Mur des Cons, in plain French) at the SM office: a board loaded with pictures and hate messages directed at various conservative or right-wing VIPs. Not exactly what would be expected from magistrates in a democratic country.

In other places, Weill-Raynal might have been celebrated as a courageous whistle-blower. In France, he has been lampooned by the left-wing press and the left-wing unions for "not acting properly as a journalist," and may even be penalized.