Yes, just what the Republic needed. Another juicy scandal. Investigators looking into Claude Guéant's financial records have found a transfer of €500,000 from a foreign account. "I sold some paintings," Guéant explains. He has all the paperwork. Never mind that no painting by the painter allegedly in question ever sold for as much as 200,000. The purchaser undoubtedly had a real hankering for an authentic van Eertvelest. Van who? You had better brush up on your minor Flemish masters. Money laundering? "I have no expertise in the area," says Guéant. How could he possibly be guilty?
As if that were not enough, it seems that he was also receiving bonuses in cash from some sort of government slush fund. You thought Jospin put an end to all that in 2002? Well, no, Guéant explains, the Ministry of the Interior had its own "special funds" until 2006, when Sarkozy put things right. Le Monde, having looked into the matter, finds that there were indeed cash "merit awards" to deserving police officials, cash on the barrelhead and no need to declare to the tax authorities, but these ended at an earlier date, presumably too early to cover the payments to Guéant, who was in any case a dircab, not a policeman being rewarded for a nice collar.
In any case, Guéant's explanations remind us that "transparency" is a remarkably rare good in the French government, and that no matter how many times "reform" is attempted, the practice of transferring cash in manila envelopes indefatigably returns. "Ordinary" Frenchmen are no doubt wondering how it is that a functionary comes to be dabbling in the international art market, but no doubt they are deceived by Guéant's appearance. He may have the air of a punctilious accountant whose heart beats only to the sight of a spreadsheet filled with numbers, but in fact he is a rare aesthete with the flair to purchase a couple of Flemish canvases at a price low enough to be within his pay grade. Is it his fault if the market for van Eertvelests suddenly went wild in the year before his boss's presidential run? Who but Le Canard enchaîné would be so mean-spirited, so philistine, as to draw a connection between the two? In any case, I look forward to learning much more about the enthusiasm of international investors for stormy skies rendered in oil. No doubt this gloomy turn of taste was a harbinger of the financial crisis to come. No wonder Guéant came out so well.