François Hollande’s alleged love affair with film actress Julie Gayet has a new address. In the space of a weekend, the apparent tryst that Closer Magazine flagged on Friday has moved from frisky indiscretion to full-blown affair of state. French media has raised concerns about Hollande’s security after the would-be couple’s supposed love-nest, an apartment a block from the Elysée Palace, was linked to Corsican organized crime.
The alleged ties raise all-new embarrassing questions for Hollande, 59, who will be on the hot seat Tuesday when hundreds of reporters are invited to the Elysée Palace for a long-scheduled press conference. Meanwhile, Hollande’s official partner, Valérie Trierweiler, 48, remains hospitalized three days after taking ill in the wake of the tabloid exclusive; her release, initially expected Monday, has been delayed by doctors reportedly ordering yet more rest.
French media Sunday flagged an intriguing detail at number 20, rue du Cirque, where Closer showed a helmet-capped man described as Hollande dropped off by scooter on the night of Dec. 30. The conservative weekly Valeurs Actuelles and the investigative news website Mediapart, citing the apartment’s mailbox and a white-pages entry, linked the apartment to one Michel Ferracci. Ferracci was handed an 18-month suspended sentence in November for his role in an embezzlement scandal involving the Cercle Wagram, a Paris gambling club for which Ferracci was a manager. That trial unveiled financing links between the Cercle Wagram and the Brise de Mer, a Corsican organized crime group. Ferracci is also a television actor who appears in “Mafiosa,” a series said to be inspired by the Brise de Mer gang.
As it turns out, the apartment’s link to Ferracci isn’t as clear cut as it might appear. Ferracci has told local media he has never owned, rented or lived in the apartment. In fact, his ex-wife, Emmanuelle Hauck, an actress who has also appeared in “Mafiosa,” has been renting the apartment since 2011, but Hauck and Ferracci split six years ago. Ferracci has said his name is on the mailbox only because his children, who live with their mother, share his name. The white-pages listing, he has explained, is a holdover from the family’s old Internet and phone contract, which was transferred to his wife’s apartment after the couple split.
More recently, Hauck, whose name is on the door buzzer at 20, rue du Cirque, was romantically involved with François Masini, who was reportedly suspected of links with the Brise de Mer gang. Masini was murdered in what has been described as an ambush in northern Corsica on May 31, 2013. Le Monde reports that Hauck has been questioned by police as a witness in the case on three occasions, but that she has no criminal priors.
The newspaper also reports that Gayet, 41, an old friend of Hauck’s, has been working out of Hauck’s apartment regularly while the supposed presidential paramour’s own offices nearby are being renovated. Le Monde, which nevertheless calls the apartment’s apparent links with Corsican organized crime “indirect and fortuitous,” reports that Hollande has visited the flat on about 10 occasions in recent months.
All of which has raised questions about Hollande’s safety and who knew what when. How much did Hollande’s security detail know about his alleged love-nest’s pedigree? Were shady characters abreast of the president’s supposedly secret whereabouts? And if paparazzi were able to go unseen staking out the president’s alleged extracurricular activities from a window across the narrow rue du Cirque, what could more nefarious characters have done with the tip-off?
Interior Minister Manuel Valls, a rare popular figure in France’s embattled leadership, has swiftly looked to cut short criticism of his department, all the while assuring the public that President Hollande’s security was never threatened. “We’re not in the United States,” Valls told Le Monde. “The GSPR [the French president’s security unit] is autonomous. I don’t have to be up to date on the president’s movements. If he decides to go somewhere, that is his responsibility. When [former president] Jacques Chirac had his stroke in 2005, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister, was not immediately notified.”
But Valls’s retort may raise more uncomfortable questions than it answers for Hollande, just as reporters come knocking Tuesday. The unpopular president might have preferred to keep the focus on economics, as he touts his so-called Responsibility Pact to boost employment and new plans to cut public spending. In that case, the financial daily Les Echos has another for him. Noting the still-hospitalized Trierweiler’s office employs four staff and that she has a bodyguard—all of which costs taxpayers about $27,000 a month—the paper wonders how things are going at home.