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Sarkozy junior in nepotism row

PARIS, Oct 12 – The imminent promotion of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son to manage France’s wealthiest business district drew howls of protest and derision on Monday over the 23-year-old’s meteoric political rise.

Opposition politicians accused the president of nepotism and charged the "Sarkozy clan" was tightening its grip on the "treasure chest" of La Defense, a district west of Paris where top French firms are headquartered.

Dubbed "Prince Jean" by the press, undergraduate Jean Sarkozy is in line to replace the minister for economic recovery, Patrick Devedjian, as chairman of EPAD, the agency overseeing office development in La Defense.

The appointment, which is all but certain to be approved by the agency’s board of directors in December, would be the latest boost to Sarkozy junior’s skyrocketing career.

The blond-haired law student is an elected councillor in Neuilly, the rich Paris suburb that catapulted his father to prominence 30 years ago and leads the right-wing majority in the Hauts-de-Seine regional council.

"We know very well that the Sarkozy clan wants to get the upper hand on the department and the treasure chest that comes with managing the richest department in our country," said Socialist MP Manuel Valls.

An online petition launched by a local opposition leader calling on Sarkozy junior to withdraw his candidacy has gathered more than 8,200 signatures.

"Finish your law studies, gain experience in business and one day, perhaps, you can re-apply for a position once held by your father," said the petition launched by Christophe Grebert of the centrist Democratic Movement.

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A Twitter feed on the Internet drew hundreds of sarcastic comments suggesting, for instance, that Jean Sarkozy was now ripe to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general.

Hackers posted a fake jobs offer on EPAD’s website stating that no experience was needed to be chairman but that "basic notions of law" were an asset. The posting was taken down early Monday.

Nicolas Sarkozy shakes hands with his son
© AFP/Pool/File Charles Platiau
Former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius jokingly commented: "Europe’s biggest business district is in need of a strong legal mind. And Mister Sarkozy is a second year law student.

"That’s a very, very strong factor."

Sarkozy’s Socialist rival in the 2007 elections, Segolene Royal, joined the outcry at the weekend by urging the head of state to "be concerned with the country’s interests instead of finding plum posts for his son."

If Jean Sarkozy "didn’t have that name would he be where he is today?" she demanded.

Royal suggested that Sarkozy junior’s appointment would be "useful" for his father as he vies for re-election in 2012 because Jean would "hold the keys and be able to manage billions of euros."

Home to 2,500 head offices for such giants as Total and Societe Generale bank, La Defense employs more than 150,000 people in the complex of skyscrapers on the western edge of Paris.

The area is slated for expansion with the construction of the ultramodern Signal Tower designed by architect Jean Nouvel, while the government also wants to extend EPAD’s remit to take in half of neighbouring communist-ruled Nanterre.

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Sarkozy junior has kept a low profile and not made any public comment since the outcry erupted nearly a week ago.

But his father’s governing UMP party described the avalanche of criticism "hateful" and argued that Jean had won democratic elections to every post that he now holds.

"As fate would have it, Jean Sarkozy has the same name as the president and that’s why he is a target," said UMP party spokesman Jean Lefebvre.

Last year, Jean Sarkozy made headlines when he married Jessica Sebaoun, heiress to the big electronics company Darty. The couple are awaiting their first baby, a boy, around year’s end.

Jean Sarkozy has an older brother, rap music producer Pierre, from his father’s first marriage and a half-brother, 11-year-old Louis, from Sarkozy’s second marriage to Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz, whom he divorced last year.

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