PARIS (AP) — French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux resigned Tuesday a few hours after prosecutors opened an investigation into a report that he hired his two daughters for a series of temporary parliamentary jobs, starting when they were 15 and 16 years old.
President Francois Hollande said he had accepted Le Roux's resignation after a meeting with Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the Elysee Palace. He named the country's low-profile trade and tourism minister, Matthias Fekl, as the new interior minister.
France's national financial prosecutor's office opened a preliminary investigation Tuesday after TMC television reported Monday night that Le Roux employed his daughters as parliamentary assistants for a total salary amount of 55,000 euros ($59,000) over 24 short contracts.
The office said the preliminary investigation into the facts disclosed in the TV program is being led by the French police agency charged with fighting corruption and financial and tax wrongdoing.
While it is legal in France for politicians to hire family members, the TMC report suggests that Le Roux's daughters did not perform all of the work. During some of their contracts as parliamentary aides, one of the daughters was doing a full-time internship in Belgium while the other was studying in an intensive class.
Le Roux's daughters, now 23 and 20, allegedly started working as parliamentary aides for their father over short vacation contracts when they were 15 and 16 and Le Roux was a lawmaker in the French National Assembly.
"These temporary and official contracts, in accordance with the legal rules of the National Assembly, all corresponded, of course, to work actually carried out," Le Roux, a member of the Socialist Party, insisted as he announced his resignation from Bobigny, a suburb outside Paris.
A similar scandal around employing family members has deeply damaged conservative Francois Fillon's presidential bid. Fillon was handed preliminary charges last week for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members — his wife and two children — for jobs that may not have existed.
Left-wing politicians pointed out that Le Roux resigned as soon as the preliminary investigation had been launched, while Fillon decided to keep campaigning although he has been handed serious charges, including misuse of public funds, receiving money from a misuse of public funds funds and company assets. Fillon initially vowed to quit as presidential candidate if he were to be charged before changing his mind. Le Roux has not been charged so far.
While insisting he is law-abiding, Le Roux said he resigned because he didn't want the latest controversy to "undermine the work of the government."
He also said that as France's interior minister he had a "particular responsibility imposed by the daily struggle against terrorism, delinquency and the control of migratory flows" and that the mission can't afford to be affected by a debate about him.
Le Roux told the TMC program his daughters never got permanent jobs and has suggested their jobs weren't fake — in contrast to what investigators suspect in Fillon's case.
"They did work," Le Roux insisted in an earlier interview with the TMC journalist.
Jean-Christophe Picard, president of the anti-corruption association Anticor, said that Le Roux had to resign to avoid any conflict of interest since he was the top boss of the police officers investigating his case.
The swift judicial reaction to the report on Le Roux's daughters reflects a marked shift in French attitudes toward corruption in politics, notably since the new position of a national financial prosecutor was created three years ago.
Some of France's most prominent politicians — including former Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac — have been embroiled in corruption scandals involving accusations from shady campaign financing to nepotism.
But the French public is growing frustrated with a political establishment it sees as enriching itself while average workers suffer, and there is growing public pressure for transparency.