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French president slams former minister over hidden bank account

By Laura Smith-Spark and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
April 3, 2013 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
French former Budget minister Jerome Cahuzac arrives at the financial pole in Paris, on April 2, 2013.
French former Budget minister Jerome Cahuzac arrives at the financial pole in Paris, on April 2, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Francois Hollande says he is "stupefied and angry" about Jerome Cahuzac's confession
  • Cahuzac admitted having an undeclared Swiss bank account after months of denials
  • The former budget minister is being investigated for suspected tax evasion
  • "Cahuzac did not benefit from any protection," Hollande states

(CNN) -- French President Francois Hollande voiced anger Wednesday over the confession by his former budget minister that he had a secret Swiss bank account, and affirmed that the man had not been shielded from justice.

Jerome Cahuzac resigned as minister in March, two months after prosecutors launched a preliminary investigation into suspected tax evasion.

It was not until a meeting with the investigating judges on Tuesday that he finally confessed he held the undeclared Swiss bank account, a statement on his blog said.

Hollande said Cahuzac had made an "unforgivable mistake" that was an insult to the country.

"Yesterday I was both stupefied and angry when I was informed of Jerome Cahuzac's confession to the judges," the president said.

Biden talks diplomacy with Hollande

"He misled the highest authorities of the country: the head of state, the government, the parliament, and through it the French people as a whole."

Hollande said the full truth will be established.

"The judicial system will play its role to the end and with complete independence," he said. "I hereby affirm that Jerome Cahuzac did not benefit from any protection apart from that of the presumption of innocence. And he left the government at my request from the moment a judicial inquiry started."

Hollande vowed that steps will be taken to bolster the independence of the judiciary, to help it "fight mercilessly" against conflicts of interest. He also promised tougher penalties for any elected officials found guilty of fraud or corruption.

The claims against Cahuzac, which he repeatedly denied, first came to light in a report by French investigative news website Mediapart in December.

The website obtained a recording of a conversation in which Cahuzac supposedly told one of his aides that it worried him to have an account in Switzerland, as UBS was not the most discreet bank.

'Spiral of lies'

The scandal dominated the headlines of French newspapers Wednesday.

Newspaper La Liberation plastered one word, "Indigne," or "Unworthy," across its front page, below a close-up image of Cahuzac.

It asks whether after "months of lies," his confession could now trigger a political crisis.

The scandal is particularly embarrassing for the Hollande government because it has vowed to crack down on tax evasion through foreign bank accounts.

In his statement, Cahuzac apologized to Hollande, the government and the French people "for the damage I have caused."

"I was caught in a spiral of lies and I took the wrong path. I am devastated by remorse," he wrote. "To think I could avoid facing a past that I wanted to consider as resolved was an unspeakable mistake."

Cahuzac said he had met with the two investigating judges Tuesday to come clean and will now "face reality."

He had held the bank account for about 20 years but had not paid into it for about 12 years, the ex-minister wrote.

He said he had given instructions for the total sum held in the Swiss account -- about 600,000 euros ($770,500) -- to be transferred to his bank account in Paris.

Hollande appointed Bernard Cazeneuve to serve in Cahuzac's place following his resignation last month.

READ MORE: French budget minister resigns

READ MORE: France's Hollande wants 75% tax on rich

READ MORE: Opinion: Why Hollande must show clearer leadership

CNN's Charles Pellegrin contributed to this report.

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