France ex-presidential hopeful Royal probed over expenses

Segolene Royal has, in recent weeks, issued a flurry of tweets and statements bashing the government and Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2020

France ex-presidential hopeful Royal probed over expenses

  • Royal unsuccessfully stood as the Socialist candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2007
  • The 66-year-old former environment minister, a key figure in left-wing politics, has denied the allegations

PARIS: French prosecutors said Wednesday they have opened an investigation into allegations that former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal used expenses meant for her ambassadorial job to promote her side interests.
Royal, who unsuccessfully stood as the Socialist candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency in 2007, has since 2017 worked as an ambassador for the polar regions with responsibility for negotiating international agreements.
She has an annual expenses budget of €100,000 for her mission, as well as three staff members who are paid for by the foreign ministry.
The national prosecutors’ office for financial crimes confirmed to AFP that Royal was under investigation.
The 66-year-old former environment minister, a key figure in left-wing politics, has denied the allegations which she has slammed as “insinuations” and “defamatory.”
“Nothing new,” she wrote on Twitter after the investigation was announced, saying she would make a further statement later.
France Info radio said Royal was suspected of using her staff to accompany her on missions unrelated to her official role, such as promoting her book and working for her foundation.
Even before the news of the investigation broke, Royal’s future was in question after the government warned she faced dismissal for repeatedly criticizing President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, including his controversial pension reforms.
“Madam Ambassador, we are considering terminating your position in view of your recent public statements,” read the letter jointly signed by the general secretaries of the foreign and environment ministries that Royal posted on her Facebook page.
Royal said herself that she considered herself to have been dismissed. A source close to the government told AFP that she would likely be fired after a cabinet meeting on January 24.
Her appointment by Macron as ambassador to the Arctic and Antarctic in 2017 was seen as something of a consolation prize for Royal, who missed out on several more senior postings.
In recent weeks her position had appeared to be in jeopardy after a flurry of tweets and statements bashing the government and Macron.
Reacting to Macron’s announcement in December amid crippling strikes that he would foreswear his own presidential pension, Royal tweeted acidly that “the real question” was whether the former investment banker would return to “the globalized business world with its huge golden handshakes” after he left office.
Last month, two MPs had demanded she be summoned by parliament to give an account of her work on the polar regions.


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 22 January 2020

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.