Lack of Intent

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A special court acquitted French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti on charges of conflict of interest, a case that marked the first time in modern France that a government minister was put on trial while still in office, Radio France Internationale reported Wednesday.

The case against Dupond-Moretti – a former high-profile defense lawyer – is centered over accusations that he used his ministerial position to order probes on four magistrates who investigated him, his friends and former clients.

In 2014, judges instructed the police to examine the phone records of numerous lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary alleged that the minister had conducted a witch hunt on the judges, but Dupond-Moretti countered that the accusers were “biased.” The minister stirred further controversy when he refused to step down during the trial.

Still, the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR) – the special tribunal reserved for alleged wrongdoing by government officials – cleared him of all charges. It noted that while the minister was facing a conflict of interest, no criminal intent was established, Reuters added.

If he was found guilty, Dupond-Moretti could have incurred up to five years in prison, a fine of nearly $550,000 and a ban from holding office.

Even so, opposition politicians and anti-corruption advocates criticized the ruling and accused the court – presided over by judges and lawmakers – of being too lenient with those in power.

Established in 1993, the CJR has conducted nine formal trials, including that of Dupond-Moretti.

Previous defendants included Christine Lagarde, the former finance minister and current head of the European Central Bank, who in 2016 was found guilty of negligence regarding a government payout. Although found guilty, she avoided punishment and retained her position at the International Monetary Fund.

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