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Top French minister resigns over alleged lavish lifestyle

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Top French minister resigns over alleged lavish lifestyle
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Paris: The number 2 in the French government resigned on Tuesday over reports that he has been living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of France's taxpayers.

Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy said on his verified Facebook page that he submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe "to defend myself" and spare his family.

He has been the object of intense criticism over the past several weeks after investigative news site Mediapart revealed that when he served as president of the lower house of parliament he and his wife hosted lavish dinners for friends.

After his appointment in September as ecology minister, he reportedly spent some 60,000 euros (USD 68,000) to refurbish his government apartment.

"The media attacks and lynching of my family force me to take a step back  which anyone could understand," Rugy wrote.

"The mobilization necessary to defend myself means that I will not be able to serenely and effectively carry out the mission entrusted to me by the president and the prime minister."        

Rugy was named president of the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, in June 2017 after President Emmanuel Macron's electoral victory.

He took on the important post of ecology minister last September after his predecessor, the well-known figure and TV star Nicolas Hulot, resigned in frustration at not being able to carry out his mission as he saw fit.

As National Assembly president one of Rugy's jobs was to ensure a clean image for the government and guarantee that its members were setting a good example.

However, Mediapart published multiple stories about Rugy's expenses, including photos of lavish dinners featuring giant lobsters. The paper said wines served at the soirees were among the best in the cellars of the National Assembly, known for its collection.

The prime minister summoned Rugy last week and ordered an investigation into the renovations at his official apartment. A separate investigation was ordered over the dinner parties while he headed the National Assembly.

On Tuesday, Mediapart was preparing a new story alleging that Rugy had used 9,200 euros of his expenses as a lawmaker to pay his membership as an elected official of his party, the Greens, and then claimed it as a tax deduction.

The site said Rugy had promised a response to the allegations by 2 pm. Instead, he announced his resignation 40 minutes later.

"The surprise in all this is hypocrisy. We say one thing and do another," Mediapart chief editor and founder Edwy Plenel said on BFMTV.

One lawmaker for Macron's party, Olivia Gregoire, denounced the opposition for pouncing on the minister before investigations were completed, and judging him on photos without giving him the presumption of innocence.

Gregoire said on BFMTV that Rugy's resignation was proof not of guilt but that "he's had enough".

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