French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti will have to stand trial in a conflict of interest case that has been an embarrassment for President Emmanuel Macron's government, his lawyers said Monday, adding they had immediately appealed the move to bring the minister to court.
Dupond-Moretti was last year charged with abusing his position as minister to settle scores with legal opponents. He became the first sitting French justice minister to be charged in a legal probe.
The minister was in the overseas territory of French Guyana at the weekend, and was represented by his legal team at the Monday morning hearing before the Republican Court of Justice (CJR).
Dupond-Moretti's lawyers immediately appealed against the decision, saying their action effectively quashed the decision to send the minister for trial.
"The decision no longer exists," said the minister's team, announcing that they had appealed to the French supreme court to set the call for a trial aside.
Dupond-Moretti's representatives claim it is now up to the highest court in the land to consider the case, notably the numerous irregularities in the allegations against their client.
The minister's lawyers claim, among other discrepancies, that the chief prosecutor at the supreme court, Francois Molins, has shown a consistently biased attitude which is unfavourable to their client.
Minister accused of witch-hunting
Eric Dupond-Moretti is himself a former barrister. He was chosen as Justice Minister by President Macron in mid-2020, and then confirmed in the post following Macron's re-election earlier this year.
The Republican Court of Justice, the only body with the power to investigate active members of the government, opened a file on Dupond-Moretti in 2021. He is suspected of abuse of power, specifically of using his influence as justice minister to settle scores with magistrates with whom he clashed during his career as a practising lawyer.
Police make rare search of French ministry of justice in probe against minister
In one case, the judges' anti-corruption association, Anticor, alleges that Dupond-Moretti ordered the internal investigation of three magistrates working for the Financial Crimes Court.
The three were responsible for revelations concerning the telephone records of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in a corruption case. They wished to identify the justice insider who warned Sarkozy that his phone lines were under police scrutiny.
Two of the three judges were heard last month by the professional oversight body, the Senior Magistrates Council. A decision will be announced later this month, but the council has not called for any punishment against the pair. The claim against the third judge was dropped by the investigators at an earlier stage.
In a separate series of allegations, Dupond-Moretti is accused of launching an internal investigation of a French judge working in Monaco.
The magistrate in question had ordered the arrest of a former client of the minister, provoking Dupond-Moretti to criticise what he called "cow-boy" methods. The Senior Magistrates Council last month said they had found no grounds to reproach the Monaco magistrate.
Dupond-Moretti claims that he initiated neither investigation, and was simply following standard administrative procedure.