In response to the revelation by Nigel Farage about the nefarious past of M. "wheel" Barrot, the commissioner’s lawyers have issued a statement, retailed by AFP, declaring that: "Mr Barrot has never been found unfit for public office (and) has never been barred from public office."
In The Telegraph today this is elaborated, with M. Barrot accusing Farage of "defamation". "While admitting the central allegation," writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, "he denied Mr Farage's claim that he had also been subjected to a two-year ban on public office." "He must withdraw his comments. Legal avenues are always open," Barrot is cited as saying.
Getting to the facts of this case are, in fact, extraordinarily difficult, undoubtedly because of the "gagging order" imposed on it. But, as far as we can ascertain, the egregious M. Barrot, then former social affairs and minister for labour, was arraigned on 6 December 1999 at the tribunal correctionnel de Paris.
He stood alongside two other former ministers on charges of "breach of trust" and attempts to conceal beach of trust in relation to illegal financing of the CDS. These related to concealment of donations of nearly 25 million francs, from companies and private individuals, laundered though a Swiss Bank, used illegally to finance election campaigns.
The other two in the dock were Pierre Méhaignerie, former minister for Justice and Bernard Bosson, former minister for equipment and transport. At the same session, M. François Froment-Meurice, a political adviser, was also arraigned on similar charges, plus forgery. The prosecutor did not ask for a penalty.
All four were convicted on 23 February 2000. Méhaignerie, Barrot and Froment-Meurice were each handed down eight-month suspended prison sentences. Bosson got four months.
The sentence did not include a provision for disbarring any of the convicts from holding office, but Barrot is nevertheless being disingenuous in claiming that he was not barred.
It appears that, under French electoral law, this happens automatically. Being found guilty of an offence that carried a prison sentence automatically disqualified those convicted from voting for five years and holding public office for ten.
In this case, the sentences were immediately quashed under a general pardon issued by president Chirac on 3 August 1995, after his election in the May, so Barrot is not actually disbarred from holding office. Technically, though, he was barred for ten years. However, in one of his several inaccuracies, Farage claimed "two years". In the strict words of that part of his denial, Barrot may therefore be right.
Clearly, this one is going to run and run.