Macron minister resigns amid claims he billed taxpayer for lobster suppers and a gold-plated hairdryer

David Chazan
Francois de Rugy, seen here with his wife, French journalist Severine Servat, was criticised for his use of public funds - AFP

France’s environment minister was forced to resign on Tuesday amid outrage over reports of lavish taxpayer-funded dinners, with wines costing up to £500 a bottle, as he was cutting spending as the speaker of parliament. 

Media claims that François de Rugy also spent public money on his wife’s gold-plated hairdryer and refurbishing his official residence in a magnificent 18th century mansion, also fuelled anger.

They came as Emmanuel Macron, the centrist president, is attempting to restore his authority after more than eight months of “yellow-vest” protests over income inequality.

Mr de Rugy resigned a day after Mr Macron declined to sack him, saying that he should be given an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations published by Mediapart, an investigative website.

“The attacks and the media lynching directed against me and my family have led me to take the necessary distance,” Mr de Rugy said. “I cannot fulfill my mission calmly and efficiently.”

Mr de Rugy, formerly number two in the government, denied any wrongdoing.

Francois de Rugy endured a torrid week after the Mediapart investigative website said he hosted lavish dinners Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

He said Mediapart’s reports that he and his wife, a journalist on a gossip magazine, had hosted lobster dinners for their friends were part of a smear campaign. He claimed that entertaining was part of his official duties and said he was suing the website for defamation.

Mediapart’s charges related largely to Mr de Rugy’s 15 months as speaker of the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, in 2017 and 2018.

In an echo of Britain’s MPs’ expenses scandal, the Left-leaning website said he spent €63,000 (nearly £57,000) of public money refurbishing his official residence, while renting a state-owned flat in his home town, Nantes, intended for people on low incomes, so that he could spend weekends with his children from his first marriage.

Le Parisien newspaper then claimed that he spent more than £450 on a Dyson hairdryer coated with gold leaf. Another daily, Ouest-France, reported that he had hosted a dinner for energy industry lobbyists which he insisted on keeping out of public records.

Among the vintage wines he reportedly served to dinner guests was a £500 Mouton-Rothschild 2004 claret, produced to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, whose label bears an endorsement by Prince Charles. 

A new report by the website on Tuesday alleged that Mr de Rugy, an environmental activist with an aristocratic background, illegally used his MP’s expense allowance to pay some of his membership fees to the political party Europe Ecology - The Greens.