Nov 4, 2009
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Sarkozy aide to return to luxury group LVMH

Nov 4, 2009

PARIS, Nov 4, 2009 (AFP - President Nicolas Sarkozy's judicial advisor is to return next month to a top job at the French luxury goods giant LVMH, maker of Louis Vuitton bags and Moet champagne, the presidency said Wednesday 4 November.

LVMH, Nicolas Sarkozy
Patrick Ouart is returning to LVMH

Patrick Ouart left his post as advisor to LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault following Sarkozy's election in 2007 to take up a position as aide to the president, in charge of steering legal reforms from the Elysee.

"It was long established that his mission would not run the full five years of the presidency," said an official at the Elysee, adding that he was leaving for personal reasons.

A French state ethics committee ruled that Ouart was not breaking conflict of interest rules after he appeared before the panel in October, said Olivier Fouquet, who heads the commission.

The 50-year-old will return to his previous position as advisor to the billionaire boss of LVMH and member of its executive committee, Fouquet said. The luxury group declined to comment.

Sometimes described as a shadow justice minister, Ouart oversaw a major reorganisation of tribunals in rural France and a reform of judicial procedures while Rachida Dati was minister until mid-2009.

A former judge, Ouart also advised Sarkozy on a trial into a suspected plot to destabilise him ahead of the 2007 elections, in which his rival the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin faces a suspended jail term if convicted.

The ethics committee chief said that Ouart's main role had been to "follow judicial affairs for as long as Ms Dati was there. Now that Ms Dati is gone, he is going back where he came from at LVMH.

"Considering the field he was in charge of managing, there was absolutely no interference between his position at the presidency and LVMH.

"He was in charge of judicial affairs, of criminal and civil law reforms, all that had nothing to do with LVMH," Fouquet said.

Prosecutors opened a probe earlier this year after Sarkozy's economic policy advisor Francois Perol was appointed chairman of the newly merged Caisse d'Epargne/Banque Populaire group.

Anti-corruption campaigners had lodged a complaint accusing Perol of a conflict of interest because he led the government side during negotiations on the merger.

But the probe was shelved in September after prosecutors found no evidence of a conflict of interest, on the grounds Perol had no personal control over government policy prior to his appointment.

Under French law, civil servants are barred from taking up a post in a company that they oversaw, negotiated a contract with or advised on its activities during the three years prior to the appointment.

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