France’s beleaguered environment minister, François de Rugy, has stepped down, less than a week after revelations by an investigative news site about his lavish lifestyle on the public dime, in a scandal that involved champagne, lobsters and questions about food-wine pairing.
Mr. de Rugy had held the environmental portfolio less than a year after replacing Nicolas Hulot, a high-profile green activist who resigned in theatrical fashion during a radio show where he vented his frustrations with the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
On Tuesday, while saying he would sue the investigative site Mediapart, which broke the story, Mr. de Rugy announced his resignation. “The attacks and the media lynching against my family led me today to take a necessary step away,” he said in a statement.
He then posted on Twitter a link to a 1993 video where then-president François Mitterrand called the media “dogs” after another politician, Pierre Bérégovoy, had killed himself after a scandal.
Mediapart said the resignation came just as it was to publish a report on Mr. de Rugy using his National Assembly expense allowance to pay membership dues in Europe Écologie-Les Verts, the green party to which he belonged before joining Mr. Macron’s La République En Marche party.
Mr. de Rugy’s departure is the latest headache for Mr. Macron, who has earned the nickname “president of the rich” after slashing a contentious wealth tax. The Yellow Vests movement started with protests by people angry about fuel tax and shrinking purchasing power.
Mr. Macron himself was under fire last year for ordering 1,200 porcelain plates for the Élysée palace and building a swimming pool at the presidential summer residence, in a medieval fort on the Côte d’Azur.
Mr. de Rugy’s troubles began when Mediapart reported on at least 10 taxpayer-funded dinners that he and his wife, Séverine, hosted in 2017 and 2018, when he was Speaker of the National Assembly, each time with 10 to 30 guests.
Held at the official Speaker’s residence, the Hôtel de Lassay, the candle-lit dinners featured jumbo lobsters, champagne and bottles from the National Assembly’s cellar such as Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem.
Mr. de Rugy insisted that the guests weren’t friends of his wife, as Mediapart reported, but “stakeholders from civil society.”
He said in a radio interview that he had a dietary intolerance to shellfish and crustaceans and that "champagne gives me headaches, I don't partake of it."
Journalists quickly found past social-media posts where he talked about toasting with champagne, fishing for lobster and having spider crab for lunch.
A side debate emerged because of a photo from one of his dinners that showed the lobsters next to a bottle of Château d’Yquem. A representative for an Alsatian vintner group told France 3 TV that serving lobster with a sweet wine showed “an obvious lack of grace and refinement." Other wine commentators were more open to the Yquem pairing but found the wine selection too Bordeaux-centric.
Ms. de Rugy told Mediapart that the dinners helped her husband remain connected with the public. “When you’re a politician you cannot cut yourself from society,” the website quoted her as saying.
The founder of France’s Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle, had a reputation for frugality, always making sure he turned off the lights when he left a room. Subsequent French politicians have, however, made headlines for their spendthrift ways.
Hervé Gaymard, for example, had to resign from the finance portfolio in 2005 because he moved to a state-subsidized luxury flat near the Champs-Elysées when he already owned another Paris apartment.
In 2013, budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who made fighting tax evasion a priority, stepped down and admitted he had kept a secret Swiss bank account.
Former prime minister François Fillon was a favourite for the 2017 presidential race until he was alleged to have given bogus parliamentary jobs to his wife and children.
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