Francois de Rugy: resigns over lobster dinner scandal

Francois de Rugy, a senior French cabinet minister and close ally of President Emmanuel Macron has resigned after reports accused him of extravagant state-funded lobster dinners and misusing public housing.

De Rugy, who was named environment minister in September 2018, announced his departure Tuesday after a week of revelations from the leftwing website Mediapart.

“The attacks and media lynching targeting my family force me to take the necessary step back,” said de Rugy, who was number two in the government after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

The Elysee Palace announced late Tuesday that Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne had been named to replace de Rugy as environment minister.

Borne, who had previously worked in the environment ministry, will not however become the government’s number two, a government source said.

De Rugy came under public pressure after Mediapart published pictures of him and his journalist wife enjoying lavish champagne-and-lobster dinners and a Valentine’s Day meal while he was speaker of parliament in 2017 and in 2018.

The website alleged the events — at the expense of taxpayers — were largely social, while de Rugy contends they were part of his work representing the National Assembly.

Mediapart also revealed that de Rugy had benefited from an apartment near his hometown of Nantes in western France that was rented at a preferential rate intended for low-income workers.

Other reports have referred to a 500-euro hairdryer bought by de Rugy’s wife at public expense and a renovation of their government apartment at a cost of 63,000 euros ($70,000).

But the image of a row of plump lobsters on a platter at a function hosted by de Rugy caused the most political damage — and many social media memes — in a country still reeling from months of “yellow vest” protests.

The violent anti-government demonstrations have been fuelled by anger over economic inequality and claims that French leaders are out-of-touch with ordinary people.

De Rugy has denied any wrongdoing and even claimed in an interview last week that he was allergic to lobsters and didn’t like champagne because it gave him a headache.

“He is someone who is solid, courageous,” ruling party MP Olivia Gregoire told reporters after his resignation. “I think he was at the end of his tether.”

De Rugy joined Macron early in his successful bid for the presidency in 2017 and was rewarded with a series of plum jobs including parliament speaker and latterly environment minister.

But the former Green campaigner’s ability to hang on to his job took a blow on Monday evening when Macron failed to give his full backing while on a trip to Serbia.

In his first reaction to the revelations, Macron said he had asked Prime Minister Philippe for “full clarity.”