France probes PR contract involving Macron minister

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) – French prosecutors launched an investigation on Friday into suspected financial misdemeanors by a French state body when it was led by a woman who is now a minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud is not cited as the target of the probe into the way a party promoting France at a consumer electronics fair in Las Vegas in 2016 was organized.

Macron won power in May promising to rid politics of corruption and conflicts of interest. Several members of his government have bowed out following media scrutiny of funding investigations in which their names have cropped up.

The investigation announced on Friday concerns a party for Business France at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, where Macron himself was present in his role as economy minister.

There was no open tender to organize the event and the party was put together by the Havas public relations agency. Havas has said it had an 18-month contract with the state agency which allowed for it to do the job without the need for a public tender.

Penicaud, head of Business France at the time, said she was the one who raised the alarm when an audit exposed a potential problem.

Macron has said any minister placed under formal investigation by magistrates must resign even though such investigations do not automatically lead to trial.

Penicaud, who appears to escape that obligation because she has not personally been placed under investigation, is in charge of sensitive negotiations with labor unions over Macron’s plans to shake up the jobs market.

The prosecutor’s office said the full-scale inquiry followed preliminary investigations opened in mid-March on the basis of information supplied by state financial inspectors.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Andrew Callus and Brian Love; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Robin Pomeroy)