The online journal Mediapart broke the story in December, alleging that Cahuzac had transferred money from a Swiss account into another in Singapore. It produced a recording that it said was of Cahuzac's voice talking about his secret account. Mediapart said the recording, dating back more than a decade, turned up â¿¿ apparently accidentally and unbeknownst to Cahuzac â¿¿ on the voice mail system of someone he knew.

Cahuzac, who garnered a hand-shake from Ayrault and a pat-on-the-back from a colleague after his fervent speech of self-defense in the National Assembly, repeated his denials on French TV and radio interviews. He also filed a defamation suit against Mediapart.

Ayrault, the prime minister, defended the role of a free press in French society and said he had previously had doubts â¿¿ but no proof â¿¿ about whether Cahuzac was telling the truth.

"I am deeply hurt for the French people," Ayrault told France-2 TV. "There are sometimes serious individual cases â¿¿ and this is one."

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