French President Emmanuel Macron’s chief of staff Alexis Kohler has been put under formal investigation over a conflict of interest related to his alleged links with an Italian-Swiss shipping company, France’s chief financial crimes prosecutor said Monday.
Kohler, who holds one of France’s most powerful jobs as Élysée secretary-general, is accused over his professional and family links with Italian-Swiss shipping company MSC, which is run by his mother’s cousins.
The prosecutor’s office “confirms Alexis Kohler, currently the secretary-general of the French presidency, has been put under formal investigation for unlawful taking of interest”, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Kohler on Monday “categorically denied any wrongdoing”, his lawyer said in a statement, while an official in Macron’s office said the presidential chief of staff remained in his post.
In 2018, Anticor, an anti-corruption NGO, filed a legal complaint against Kohler for illegal influence-peddling concerning contracts awarded to MSC in 2010 and 2011.
MSC was founded by billionaire cousins of Kohler’s mother and Kohler himself joined the company as finance director in 2016 while continuing to work as an adviser on Macron’s presidential campaign.
Kohler, whose office at the Élysée is located next to that of the president, is often described as Macron’s right-hand man.
His job involves handling emergencies, major economic and social issues as well as some political decisions.
His lawyer, Éric Dezeuze, said the discovery of evidence linked to the charging would allow Kohler “to prove his innocence”.
But Anticor lawyer Jean-Baptiste Soufron said “the question of his resignation is now on the table”.
From government to private service and back
Macron’s office has previously said that Kohler had at no time hidden his family ties to the Aponte family that owns MSC.
The company, which runs cruise ships, is one of the biggest clients of French shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique, the maker of the Queen Mary 2, which the French government has tried to restructure several times over the past decades.
The complaint alleges a conflict of interest based on Kohler’s dealings with MSC while he was working for the French state holdings agency between 2012-2014 and later as a senior official in Macron’s team at the finance ministry in 2014-2016.
Kohler left the finance ministry in 2016, when Macron stepped down as economy minister. He then moved to Geneva to take up a position on MSC’s board. Nine months later, Kohler quit that post to join the Élysée following Macron’s election in 2017.
Under French law, a formal investigation means there is evidence implicating a suspect, but does not mean the person being investigated has been charged.
The person can be charged at a later date if further evidence emerges against them, or the investigation can be dropped.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)