Sarkozy's 'friend' did win state deals
Fri, 11 May 2007
President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy was wrong to claim that billionaire tycoon Vincent Bollore, who lent him a yacht for a luxury holiday, has no business dealings with the French state, government records show.
Critics rounded on Sarkozy over his high-budget break on board of Bollore's 60-metre yacht in Malta, where he flew Monday using the industrialists' private jet, accusing the right-winger of unhealthy links to big business.
Denied allegations of links
Both Bollore and Sarkozy — whose friendship goes back 20 years — denied accusations of a conflict of interest, saying Bollore's business and media empire had no dealings with the French state.
"Vincent Bollore is one of the great French industrialists who has done a great deal for the French economy. He has never worked with the French state," the 52-year-old Sarkozy, who refused to apologise for the trip, said.
Won a number of state contracts
But according to online French government records, Bollore's group has won state contracts worth up to €40-million in the past two years.
Last year, the Bollore group's SDV logistics subsidiary won a contract to operate an internal courier service for the foreign ministry over a four-year period, a deal worth between €1.4-million and €5.6-million.
In June 2005, SDV was awarded a four-year contract to run a commercial air freight service for the French defence ministry, worth an estimated €36-million.
In December 2006, when Sarkozy was interior minister, a €342 329 contract from his ministry to build a secure cabin inside the police department in the southeastern city of Grenoble was attributed to Bollore SA, a private firm with no links to Vicent Bollore.
The Bollore story
The Bollore business, founded in 1822 to specialise in paper for making bibles, now has annual sales of nearly €6-billion and employs more than 32 000 people throughout the world.
Its interests range from transport and international logistics, particularly in Africa, to plastic film for packaging, the distribution of energy, printing terminals, ticketing machines and check-in terminals.
In recent years it has its media interests, launching a French cable TV channel called "Direct 8" and two free newspapers.
Bollore is the biggest shareholder in French advertising group Havas, owning 31 percent, and holds 29 percent of British advertising giant Aegis.
In September he bought 40 percent of the holding company behind French market research and opinion polling company CSA. His group also has interests in audio and film production and wireless Internet access.
Billionaire yacht owner defends Sarkozy stay
By Anna Willard
PARIS (Reuters) - The billionaire French businessman who lent his yacht to Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday rejected accusations that his close relationship with the future president could lead to special favours for his companies.
After Sunday's election, Sarkozy went for a short break on a 70-metre luxury cruiser belonging to Vincent Bollore, the largest shareholder in advertising group Havas who also has stakes in a web of financial and industrial firms.
Opposition leaders said it showed the president-elect was out of touch with normal people and too close to big business.
Bollore said he did not expect his group to win favourable treatment in exchange for the free trip.
"Just because you are friends with somebody, it doesn't mean there are no ethics in the relationship," he said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper published on Friday.
Bollore has said his group had no commercial ties with the French state, but Le Monde newspaper cited official documents showing that his firms had several state contracts, including one for the delivery of diplomatic documents.
It also listed a 342,329 euro (233,185 pound) contract won by the Bollore group for work at police headquarters in the city of Grenoble, awarded in December 2006 by the interior ministry when Nicolas Sarkozy was the minister.
Bollore told Le Parisien on Friday: "We are a French group par excellence which is totally independent from the state. We have no contract with public power."
He said Leon Blum, the first Socialist prime minister of France, spent time in a Bollore manor after World War Two.
Although Sarkozy's 48-hour holiday made a big splash in the press, an opinion poll published on Thursday showed 58 percent of people did not find the trip shocking.
Sarkozy himself was unapologetic, saying the break came after a long election campaign and cost taxpayers nothing.
However, some commentators questioned the wisdom of the holiday and said it was likely to influence decision-making.
"Knowing the sectors of activity of the Bollore group, in particular, communication/media and energy distribution, you wonder how Nicolas Sarkozy could have an independent political programme," wrote the left-leaning Liberation daily.
But tycoon and former Socialist supporter Bernard Tapie also jumped to Sarkozy's defence.
"He's not president yet...It's like his 'last hurrah'. It's a totally private affair," said Tapie, former boss of Olympique Marseille soccer team.
He also said that among the critics "three-quarters of them have spent time not so long ago on my yacht 'Phocea', and at the time, they didn't find that vulgar or out of place," he said.
Tapie earned fame and fortune by rescuing troubled companies in the 1970s and 1980s and was a Socialist minister for a while, but his career descended into disgrace in 1997 after he was convicted over a soccer match-fixing scandal and tax fraud.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher)
Sarkozy flirtation with rich leaves French unmoved
Fri May 11, 2007 1:27 PM EDT
By Kerstin Gehmlich
PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy's Mediterranean holiday on a luxurious private yacht marks a departure from the unwritten French rule that you should be discreet about money and wealth, but voters do not seem to mind.
Barely 24 hours after being elected president on Sunday, Sarkozy and his family took a private jet to Malta for a break aboard the 70-metre (230-foot) yacht of a billionaire friend, which media said would cost some 200,000 euros ($269,500) a week to hire.
"It's the first time that someone who has only just been elected is associating himself so openly with the rich," said historian Odon Vallet.
Sarkozy has defended his trip and said he deserved a holiday. Vallet said the trip was a clumsy choice for a leader who will have to defend the need to cut public debt.
"If I was him, I would have gone to a small inn in rural France and would have sent my wife to pay a visit to a pensioners' home," he said.
Left-wing opposition leaders said Sarkozy's stay on media mogul Vincent Bollore's yacht was ironic, given his pledges to do more for poor workers.
However, voters seemed unconcerned. Fifty-eight percent said they did not think his holiday was shocking, according to an OpinionWay survey for Le Figaro daily published on Friday.
Sarkozy valued his personal fortune at more than 2 million euros, thanks mainly to life insurance contracts, in a declaration on Friday to the constitutional council.
The 52-year-old right-winger would not be the first French leader to develop a taste for the luxurious life.
President Jacques Chirac, who will officially hand over to Sarkozy next Wednesday, campaigned on the promise of wanting to be a modest president before coming to power 12 years ago.
Once he was in the Elysee Palace, however, his office spent some 250,000 euros ($336,900) a year on fine wines alone, Capital magazine said, noting Chirac hired an extra 145 people.
Chirac's wife Bernadette alone had 21 staff, including six secretaries and two personal drivers, it said.
Upon leaving office, Chirac will benefit from a 37,000 euro per month pension from his various public posts and move into a luxurious apartment that belongs to the family of assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, media said. The state will pay for an office for the former head of state.
Analysts said the luxury displayed by a president in office did not stir much concern in France.
"There are two different issues. One is the problem of personal links between politicians and business," said sociologist Damien De Blic.
"The other concerns the luxury expenses of the presidency, which are less criticized because the president is expected to display prestige...and to defend the image of France."
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