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French Ex-minister Admits Lying About Bank Account

By JAMEY KEATEN

PARIS (AP) â¿¿ French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday decried an "unforgiveable moral error" by his former budget minister, who has jolted France's body politic by admitting on his blog to having lied about a once-secret foreign bank account.

Authorities filed preliminary charges against Jerome Cahuzac, a former plastic surgeon-turned-politician, for alleged money laundering, a spokeswoman for Paris prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a 375,000 euro ($481,500) fine.

After months of denials, Cahuzac wrote on his blog that he had told investigating judges he had a foreign bank account for 20 years. Calls by The Associated Press to his lawyer and to colleagues were not returned and he could not directly be reached for comment. Cahuzac, who had long criticized the use of overseas tax havens, quit the government last month as the scandal swelled.

On his blog, www.jerome-cahuzac.com, the former minister wrote that he had taken steps to repatriate 600,000 euros worth of holdings now in the account.

Cahuzac also made a thorough mea culpa, expressing regret to his colleagues, supporters and all French, and asking Hollande, the prime minister and former colleagues for "forgiveness for the damage I have caused them." Fellow Socialists expressed disappointment and betrayal, and rival conservatives pounced: At least two scolded the Socialists for having lectured the political right on morality issues in the past.

Top government officials swung into crisis-management mode. Hollande's office said in a statement that the president "noted the admission of Jerome Cahuzac with great severity," and regretted how he "committed an unforgiveable moral error" with his public denials â¿¿ including on the floor of parliament.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he spoke to Cahuzac on Tuesday, and that the former budget minister admitted to him that he had been dishonest.

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