French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti arrives at the Elysee Palace for the fist cabinet meeting since French President Emmanuel Macron 's reelection, on May 23, 2022 in Paris. AP Image Credit: AP

Paris: France’s justice minister goes on trial Monday in a conflict of interest case that has been a major embarrassment for President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Eric Dupond-Moretti, a former star defence lawyer, was in 2021 charged with misusing his position to settle scores with opponents from his legal career, and is the first sitting French justice minister to stand trial.

Dupond-Moretti has stirred much controversy as minister, including for allegedly sexist remarks towards women reporters, and for an offensive hand gesture during a parliamentary debate.

The case heard from 2:00 pm Monday relates to administrative inquiries on the minister’s watch into three judges who had ordered police in 2014 to pour through the phone records of dozens of lawyers and magistrates, including Dupond-Moretti, as part of an investigation into former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The judiciary accuses Dupond-Moretti, who also ordered a fourth judge to be investigated in an unrelated case, of a witch-hunt, while the minister retorted that his accusers were “biased”.

He said he was merely acting on the recommendations of his staff to investigate possible mistakes by the magistrates who oversaw the seizures of the phone records.

The order to stand trial was issued by the investigation commission of the Law Court of the Republic in Paris (CJR), which hears cases of alleged wrongdoing by serving ministers.

Dupond-Moretti’s advisers told AFP he was “confident” ahead of the trial, at which he will give a short statement on Monday before being cross-examined Tuesday.

Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne have supported Dupond-Moretti throughout the case.

“As justice minister, Eric Dupond-Moretti has my full confidence,” Borne told the France Inter broadcaster, praising his “excellent work”.

She also said that he had a right to the presumption of innocence, and added that she had wanted him to stay on as government minister “so that he can organise his defence, and the justice ministry can continue to function properly”.

But last month, when asked whether Dupond-Moretti would have to resign if found guilty, Borne said that there was a “clear rule”, which has been interpreted as meaning that he would have to go.

If convicted, Dupond-Moretti could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, fined up to 500,000 euros ($537,000) and barred from holding public office.

Around 20 witnesses have been summoned to testify in the case, including former prime minister Jean Castex and former high court chief prosecutor Francois Molins.

The four judges, who were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the probes ordered by Dupond-Moretti, will also be heard.

The CJR, which is often criticized for lenience towards government members, is made up of three magistrates and 12 members of parliament.