The French minister in charge of clamping down on tax evasion has resigned after allegations that he evaded taxes with a secret Swiss bank account.
Jerome Cahuzac, the budget minister, who has vehemently and repeatedly denied the accusations, stood down on Tuesday hours after it was announced a legal investigation had been opened into the accusations.
The launching of legal proceedings for "fiscal fraud" did not specifically name Cahuzac but centres on claims that he hid money from the French tax authorities, first in Switzerland and then in Singapore. It followed a preliminary inquiry opened in January to determine whether a voice on a recording of an alleged conversation between Cahuzac and his wealth manager in 2000 was indeed that of the minister.
Last night Cahuzac continued to insist he was innocent, and lambasted what he said were defamatory accusations. He said he had resigned for the "good of the government".
A spokesperson for Francois Hollande said the president had accepted Cahuzac's resignation and removed him from office. In a statement, he thanked Cahuzac for his "talent and competence", and said he applauded his decision to resign to "better defend his honour".
The embarrassment is compounded by the fact that Cahuzac, 60, a former MP and cardiologist who became a hair transplant surgeon, has headed Hollande's efforts to cut its public deficit and stamp out tax evasion.
He had appeared to be in the clear last month after the Swiss authorities said they could find no trace of an account. However, the French investigative website Mediapart, which broke the original story, insisted it had evidence.
Mediapart claimed in January to have evidence that Cahuzac had an undeclared account at the Swiss bank UBS for 20 years until 2010. It alleged he travelled to Switzerland to close the Geneva-based account in person and transfer the money to Singapore shortly before he was made head of the parliamentary finance commission in February 2010.