François Bayrou, a confidant of the French president, rejects the accusation of embezzlement. He can now return to state politics.

Emmanuel Macron and Francois Bayrou embrace in a friendly embrace during an event.

François Bayrou (right) returns to the political scene after his acquittal Photo: Ludovic Marín/Reuters

PARIS taz | François Bayrou, leader of the center-democratic party MoDem (Mouvement Démocrate) and one of President Emmanuel Macron's closest political confidants, was acquitted on Monday by the Paris criminal court. He was accused of complicity in the embezzlement of public funds: it is said that the employees of the MoDem deputies did not actually work for these deputies, but for the party bodies.

The prosecution had accused Bayrou of organizing this system of embezzlement and had therefore demanded a suspended prison sentence of 30 months, a fine of 70,000 euros and a loss of eligibility for three years. But this was not granted.

In its ruling, the court justified Bayrou's acquittal as follows: it had not been proven that he had knowledge of the embezzlement of EU funds or that he had suggested a plan to embezzle funds from his party's representatives in the EU. .

Five of the MoDem members in the EU Parliament were sentenced, unlike their prominent party leader, to prison terms of 10 to 18 months, which were however suspended. They also must pay fines and are not allowed to vote for two years.

Unfulfilled employment contracts

MoDem itself was fined 350,000 euros. The judges considered it proven that several employees of the EU deputies had not fulfilled their employment contracts and instead worked for organs of the MoDem party.

For Bayrou, this ruling comes at an ideal time. For Emmanuel Macron, the 72-year-old was one of the most important election assistants in 2017, when Macron was elected president for the first time. Macron showed his gratitude and subsequently appointed Bayrou Minister of Justice.

But that was a brief interval: due to the investigation into fake employees in the EU Parliament, Bayrou had to leave the government after a few weeks. The investigation began at that time following a complaint from the far-right Rassemblement National party.

Will Bayrou soon be president instead of just mayor?

For seven years, Bayrou waited as a behind-the-scenes advisor, and more recently as president of the State Planning Commission, for the judiciary to allow him to return to government with a clean slate. That seems to be the case now.

The government formed by Macron at the beginning of the year under the leadership of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is not yet complete. There are already signs of change in certain positions, particularly in the Ministry of Education. This is convenient for Bayrou, who was already Minister of Education. And he does not lack ambition to restore the credibility of Macron's reforms.

And perhaps Bayrou would like to aspire even higher: he has already run twice, unsuccessfully, for the presidency of France. Macron cannot run for a third term; In France, no more than two are allowed. Bayrou, currently simply mayor of the town of Pau, population 77,000, in the southwestern French Pyrenees, would no doubt feel up to the role.

Collaboration: Lisa Schneider