This is a case that weakens the Minister of Labor, already targeted by the opposition because of the pension reform which has mobilized hundreds of thousands of French people on the street since January 19. On Friday, the investigative newspaper Mediapart revealed that Minister Olivier Dussopt had been targeted, since 2020, by an investigation by the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), for suspicions of favoritism in the context of a public contract award to the Saur company, specialized in water treatment. An accusation that the interested parties dispute, while the PNF must, according to the newspaper, soon announce the holding of a trial.
What is Olivier Dussopt suspected of?
The minister is suspected of “favoritism” in a rigged market with the Saur group in 2009, reports Mediapart. Clearly, the minister, who was then socialist mayor of the town of Annonay, in the Ardèche, is suspected of having arranged with the company for the award of a public contract between 2009 and 2010 while this the latter was coming to the end of its affermage contract with the city.
This discovery is the result of a search carried out at the Minister’s premises by financial investigators from Oclciff (Central Office for the Fight against Financial and Tax Offences), carried out as part of an investigation into suspicions of illegal taking of interest because of another Mediapart article published in 2020. It already noted links between Olivier Dussopt and the Saur company and specified that he had received, in 2017, two works by Gérard Garouste, his favorite painter, from an executive of the company.
What do the minister and the government answer?
Asked about this this Saturday morning on France Inter, the Minister of Labor “disputes” the idea of an “arrangement” with Saur. “In May 2020, a press article believed it could question my relations with a water group in the town of Annonay, of which I was the mayor” and “the Financial Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation and carried out very many checks,” said the Minister.
“At the end of this investigative work, the prosecution had grouped the facts into five points and I note that the explanations given with my lawyer convinced the prosecution of my good faith since on four of these five points, the prosecution decided that it was necessary to classify by retaining that there was no prosecution for corruption, taking of interest or enrichment”, he added.
But “the prosecution considers that in the context of a public procurement procedure in 2009 (…), there could be an offense of favoritism, said Olivier Dussopt again. It’s an assertion, a thesis, that I dispute and I have only one wish (…), which is to continue to convince and explain how things happened to convince of my good faith. »
For its part, the cabinet of Elisabeth Borne announced this Saturday that Olivier Dussopt, despite the controversy, had “all the confidence of the Prime Minister”. The Élysée did not comment.
What does the respondent company say?
In a press release, the Saur group said it had “read the article published by Mediapart” on Friday. Saur “has indeed been the recipient of a summary note” from the PNF “which envisages, with regard to Saur, an action solely on the basis of facts that occurred in 2009”.
“All the other facts investigated by the PNF have been dismissed” and Saur “considers that this residual action against him, nearly 15 years after the facts, is not justified, and will put forward his arguments before the court which will be seized of it, ”adds the group.
What are the minister and the company risking?
The Penal Code specifies that the offense of “favoritism” is punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 euros, “the amount of which may be increased to double the proceeds of the offence”.
After a phase of “contradictory” with the lawyers of Olivier Dussopt, the PNF must formalize the holding of a trial with the sending of summonses to appear.
According to Mediapart, Saur could appear for concealment of favoritism, punishable by five years’ imprisonment and up to 375,000 euros in fines and a possible ban on public contracts for up to five years. This hearing could be held within a year.