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French president battles burgeoning tax scandal

Revelations that the former tax czar secretly held a Swiss bank account threaten the government.

BRUSSELS, Belgium — French president François Hollande has vehemently denied that his government covered for disgraced budget minister and tax tsar Jereome Cahuzac in an attempt to mitigate the damage a burgeoning tax scandal has done to his reputation.

“I affirm that Jérôme Cahuzac has not received any protection other than the presumption of innocence,” Hollande told France 24, adding, “The failings of one man must make us even more demanding and uncompromising when it comes to the exemplary conduct required of public officials.”

Read more from GlobalPost: French president Francois Hollande approval rating drops to record low

The Cahuzac affair is a severe blow to Hollande, whose popularity rating had already plunged below 30 percent before the scandal blew up.

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In his successful campaign to unseat Nicolas Sarkozy a year ago, Hollande had promised a clean, down-to-earth government led by a self-proclaimed “ordinary guy,” in contrast at the “bling-bling” style of his predecessor.

The revelations about Cahuzac — once nicknamed “Monsieur Rigeur” for his tough line on tax evasion — have undermined the Socialist government claim to propriety and sparked calls for its resignation.

Hollande was forced to appeared on television Wednesday to deny that Cahuzac enjoyed government protection after the allegations against him were first made public in December. The president also promised a new law throwing light on the wealth of politicians.

But Hollande faced fresh problems Thursday after the daily Le Monde reported his campaign treasurer Jean-Jacques Augier had joint ownership of two firms registered in the Cayman Islands. Augier acknowledged the existence of the firms but said there was nothing illegal involved.

The president has responded by promising a new law “on the publication and control” of ministers’ wealth.

Cahuzac, who resigned from his government position two weeks ago, has been charged with fraud.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici denied any knowledge of Cahuzac’s transgressions at parliamentary questions, claiming ” “Every time, and it was more than 50 times, when I interrogated him, he gave me numerous and vigorous denials, looking straight into my eyes,” the Guardian reported.

With Sarkozy also embroiled in a case involving campaign financing from France’s richest woman, the Cazuhac case has added to the widespread French disillusion with mainstream politics. It adds to fears of a surge in support for radical parties on the left and right.

The far right, however, is also facing questions over the Cahuzac affair. Le Monde is reporting that the ex-minister’s Swiss account was opened for him by a former tax lawyer who is now a close advisor to National Front leader Marine Le Pen.