June 4, 2018 / 9:29 AM / 19 days ago

French prosecutor opens investigation into Macron's chief of staff

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s financial prosecutor opened an inquiry on Monday into allegations that President Emmanuel Macron’s chief of staff breached conflict of interest rules while working for the state and the Swiss-Italian Mediterranean Shipping Company.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and Secretary General of the Elysee Palace, Alexis Kohler attend a Defense Council at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 24, 2017. Picture taken May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane De Sakutin/Pool/File Photo

The investigation comes after anti-graft group Anticor filed a complaint accusing the aide, Alexis Kohler, of influence-peddling and breaking conflict of interest rules over his ties to the Mediterranean Shipping Company while in public office.

“The financial prosecutor has opened an investigation to verify whether the rules relating to the private-sector activities of public officials have been respected,” the financial prosecutor’s office said.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a conference to present a plan for the preservation of heritages sites at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, May 31, 2018. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters

Kohler did not respond to an SMS text message seeking comment. The Elysee Palace said Kohler had not acted unlawfully and would cooperate with the investigation.

FILE PHOTO: Alexis Kohler, Elysee Secretary General leaves a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017. Picture taken May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

The complaint alleges a conflict of interest based on Kohler’s family links to the Italian owners of MSC while he was working for the French state holdings agency and later as a senior official in the finance ministry between 2012-2014 and 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 work with Macron following his election as president.

Under French law, civil servants can put their public sector careers on hold in order to work in the private sector for a limited number of years before returning to public administration.

Macron’s office said Kohler had at no time hidden his family ties to the Aponte family that founded and still owns MSC.

“Mr. Kohler would like to point out that he has always kept his superiors informed of the personal links he had with MSC,” Macron’s office said in a statement. “As a result, he has systematically been removed from all deliberation and all decisions relating to this enterprise.”

Anticor said its allegations largely stemmed from an investigation published by news website Mediapart.

Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones

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