PARIS (AP) — French prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into suspected favoritism surrounding an event in Las Vegas promoted by presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron last year, the Paris prosecutor's office said Tuesday.
Macron, however, isn't involved so far in the investigation. The independent centrist candidate is one of the top contenders for the April-May two-round presidential election and has increasingly appeared in polls as the front-runner to win it.
The probe is related to a French event organized during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2016. Macron, economy minister at the time, was the event's main speaker.
Business France, a French public agency in charge of promoting French companies abroad, is suspected of choosing French communications group Havas for organizing the so-called "French Tech Night" event without seeking a bid.
The Paris prosecutor's office said a government body in charge of controlling public finances noticed irregularities in the way the event was organized. "People likely to be involved so far are Business France and Havas (media group)," the office said.
The preliminary investigation is evaluating if there is evidence to support charges of favoritism, complicity of favoritism and receiving money from favoritism, the office said.
Macron's centrist political movement En Marche ("In Motion") insisted that "the inquiry doesn't in any way target" him or any member of his then-cabinet staff at the ministry.
Macron has no "personal liability of any kind" in the decisions surrounding the organization of the Las Vegas event, the movement said in a statement Tuesday night.
The investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported last week that the hastily organized event cost 380,000 euros ($403,000.)
Business France has said that "given the very tight deadlines" for the "French Tech Night" event, it asked Havas media group for help organizing and doing communication because the public agency had worked with the media group for similar events in the past.
"The minister and his cabinet staff don't take part in the bidding process, and therefore in the contractual relationship between Business France and Havas," the agency said in a statement Monday.
Macron delivered a long speech at the "French Tech Night" in January 2016 and was congratulated by hundreds of French entrepreneurs, startup managers and other guests in Las Vegas.
At the time, Macron hadn't founded his political movement or announced his bid for next month's presidential election. But the event helped him strengthen his image as a pro-business leader well-versed in new technologies.
Even if his name were to appear later in the investigation, Macron could not be directly targeted by the Paris prosecutor's office or by traditional investigating judges.
In France, only a special court, the Court of Justice of the Republic, has jurisdiction to investigate and send to trial ministers for alleged criminal offenses that occurred in the exercise of their duties.