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French Justice Minister Éric Dupont-Moretti went on trial this week for allegedly using his position to target other officials, the first minister in the country’s modern history to appear on trial while still in office, the Associated Press reported.

Dupont-Moretti, whose case is being heard by the Court of Justice of the Republic, a special court with jurisdiction to try government officials for crimes, is accused of using his position to order probes targeting magistrates who investigated him, his friends and former clients. The minister was a renowned lawyer before entering office, and earned the nickname “Acquittor” for successfully defending 145 clients. He is being prosecuted in two separate cases, Le Monde explained.

In the first, his chief of staff ordered an inquiry into the investigations carried out by Judge Édouard Levrault – who had indicted two of Dupont-Moretti’s clients in a corruption case in Monaco – causing an outcry among magistrates. Levrault was eventually cleared.

The second is linked to the scandal surrounding the Libyan government’s funding of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. Dupont-Moretti, a close friend of Sarkozy’s lawyer, had his phone tapped by the office of the National Finance Prosecutor (PNF). After being appointed to his current post in 2020, he requested an inquiry into the PNF’s investigation. The magistrates were subsequently cleared.

The minister raised eyebrows when he said he would not step down during the trial, breaking an informal tradition in which members of government resign when coming under investigation.

France’s magistrates’ unions warned that the minister’s actions weaken the judicial branch, while raising concerns about the operation of checks and balances in French democracy. The government, meanwhile, expressed its support for Dupont-Moretti, invoking the presumption of innocence.

If convicted, Dupont-Moretti could face five years in prison, a $537,000 fine and disqualification from holding public office.

His trial will run until Nov. 17.

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