A long time Engaged alongside Nicolas Sarkozy, Laurence Arribagé has always supported her mentor in his legal trials. “He deserves respect and the application of the principles of law”, declared for example the former deputy of Haute-Garonne, on March 3, 2021, the evening of the conviction at first instance of the former President of the Republic in the Bismuth case. A file that the Sarkozyists have always denounced, like so many others, as being the fruit of an improbable “to plot”.
Irony of fate: a plot, a real one, is catching up with Les Républicains (LR) and Laurence Arribagé today. The Toulouse elected official, deputy mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc, will be tried by the criminal court, as revealed by Mediacitéswith two other people – including the former number 2 of the tax authorities in the region – for having tried to torpedo, during the 2017 legislative elections, a competing candidacy by triggering a tax audit against it, then the opening of a judicial investigation.
At the end of his investigation, the investigating judge Vincent Lemonier revealed, on September 12, 2022, that the investigations made it possible to establish “the existence of a conspiracy to allow Laurence Arribagé to keep his seat”under the terms of its order for reference, a 17-page document consulted by Mediapart.
The various protagonists are indeed suspected of having, hand in hand, orchestrated a false denunciation of “tax evasion” and “hidden work” against Corinne Vignon, the candidate invested by La République en Marche (LREM) in the constituency of Laurence Arribagé, to discredit it in the media a few days before the second round of the legislative elections.
Author of this misleading denunciation, the former number 2 of the regional directorate of public finances of Occitanie, Marc Menvielle, who argued his pension rights upon revelation of the affair, is referred to the criminal court for alleged acts of “slanderous denunciation”, “breach of professional secrecy” and “illegal taking of interests”. Laurence Arribagé is, she, for the “concealment” of these crimes.
Solicited, the lawyers of Marc Menvielle and Laurence Arribagé, both presumed innocent, did not respond to Mediapart.
The electoral manipulation at the heart of the investigation took shape in the between-rounds of this tense ballot, while the LR deputy was in a designated ballot against her walking opponent. To everyone’s surprise, Corinne Vignon, unknown to the general public, came out on top in the first round, even beating outgoing Laurence Arribagé by 17 points.
On Tuesday June 13, 2017, two days after this disastrous first round for the LRs, Marc Menvielle is responsible for a tax investigation for suspicions of concealed work against Corinne Vignon, whom he accuses of not having declared her activities as an astrologer several years earlier.
The next day, he also transmitted a judicial report, returned to the Toulouse prosecutor’s office, which opened a criminal investigation with the same alacrity. Almost in real time, the information of the opening of a judicial inquiry is transmitted to the local press.
Or, according to the judicial inquiries carried out since, “Marc Menvielle filed the report by bypassing his hierarchy and to please Laurence Arribagé, with whom he had a friendly relationship”. The two friends also shared a “political proximity”specifies judge Vincent Lemonier in his order, recalling that a photograph of former president Nicolas Sarkozy was found, during a search, in the office of Marc Menvielle.
During the investigation, the civil servants of the regional direction of the public finances auditioned, that they are superiors or limited of Marc Menveille, “all expressed their astonishment at the haste with which he had acted, demanding filing the same day of the report”recall the order.
These tax officials also “noted the few investigations that Marc Menvielle had carried out before seizing the prosecution”. And for good reason: the facts denounced “were inaccurate, since they did not clearly characterize the offenses of concealed work or tax evasion”insists the magistrate Vincent Lemonier.
Seized of the investigation opened against Corinne Vignon, the SRPJ (regional service of the judicial police) of Toulouse quickly realized this. Since the head of the control and research brigade had noticed on the very day of the report that the denounced and allegedly concealed activity of the candidate LREM was in fact “virtually non-existent”. The investigation opened against her will be dismissed in September 2017 for “lack of offense”.
But the objective was probably elsewhere. “Marc Menvielle knew perfectly well that in the between-rounds the information he communicated was going to be immediately used by the LR candidate to catch up”notes the investigating judge at the end of his investigation. Good, however, Corinne Vignon won (53% of the vote); she was also re-elected in 2022.
When he was heard by the magistrate, Marc Menvielle disputed any malevolent or political intention, claiming to have acted with such zeal in the “sole intention to protect his administration”in the event of the election of Corinne Vignon and the control of the High Authority for the transparency of public life (HATVP) on her tax situation. “Inaction on this file could then have been blamed on him”he considered.
The assistant prosecutor is cleared
Throughout the procedure, Laurence Arribagé is informed in real time, as shown by SMS exchanges revealed by Mediapart in December 2021. Candidate LR also dialogues on the content of the case with a third actor, Frédéric Sartorelli, a former relative of Corinne Vignon who, after being angry with her, had decided to transmit information on her past activities as an astrologer to Laurence Arribagé.
” I hope it will hurt”writes this entrepreneur to him in a message. “It’s only a start but it’s great”, answers the elected LR. On June 14, the day Marc Menvielle filed the report with the prosecution, she warned him: “The prosecutor will be seized before noon of a complaint from the tax authorities against Vignon. » This allows Frédéric Sartorelli to immediately meet journalists.
The blow is gone. The prosecution will then quickly confirm the information by issuing a press release to “avoid the secretariat responding individually to each journalist”as explained in hearing the prosecutor then in office, Pierre-Yves Couilleau.
Initially cited in the file, the former assistant prosecutor Patrice Michel, who had advised Marc Menvielle for his report, was exonerated. “The procedure showed that Mr. Michel and Mr. Menvielle had bonds of friendship. However, it also showed that Mr. Michel had simply received the message from Mr. Menvielle referring to the draft report and invited Mr. Menvielle to formalize his report”justify the examining magistrate in his order.
A curious exchange of SMS before the visit of Gérald Darmanin
Referred to the criminal court for “slanderous denunciation”, Frédéric Sartorelli disputes the facts of which he is accused, explaining that he acted without personal interest or compensation, but because he considered that Corinne Vignon was not worthy of occupying the functions of deputy. “He still does not understand the reasons why he can be followed while the facts denounced [les prestations d’astrologie – ndlr] are real”explains to Mediapart his lawyer Me Louis Thevenot.
Questioned by the investigators, the former deputy Laurence Arribagé explained on several occasions, about the suspicious SMS, that she did not always have her campaign telephone in her possession. “Showing little elegance”according to the words of the examining magistrate, the elected official even insinuated “that his team could also have used it”going up to “regret having trusted her”. But his former campaign manager denied this version during the hearing: he did not have access to Laurence Arribagé’s phone for the simple reason that she never parted with it.
At the end of the investigations, initiated in 2020 following the seizure of Marc Menvielle’s mobile phone in another case before she was displaced to Paris in January 2021, a question remains around a curious conversation on the occasion a ministerial trip, in November 2017, of Gérald Darmanin, then Minister of Public Accounts, to the personal tax department of Toulouse.
On the eve of this trip by Gérald Darmanin, former spokesperson for Nicolas Sarkozy and support for Laurence Arribagé at LR, Marc Menvielle sent the following SMS to the Toulouse elected official: “Hello Laurence, especially those to whom you give the papers must know that it was I who signed article 40. […] See you tomorrow at dawn too funny. Thank you see you tomorrow. “Promise Mark.” Don’t tkt [t’inquiète] not. Until tomorrow “replied the ex-MP.
The investigators accepted the hypothesis according to which Laurence Arribagé was instructed by Marc Menvielle to intercede with his supervisory minister in order to obtain a promotion which had been refused to him by his direct superiors, which could have constituted a counterpart to his report against Corinne Vignon during the legislative elections. A theory that the tax official claimed disputed, explaining that the documents mentioned in his message were only a CV “with a view to becoming a legal expert in the financial field”.
In the absence of evidence, the courts could not go further on this point. “The investigations did not make it possible to know what was the object of this exchange”, writes the judge with regret in his order. And to conclude: “Therefore, although questions about this exchange remain, it cannot in itself constitute proof that Laurence Arribagé or Marc Menvielle have committed acts of corruption. »
Despite the dismissal of his assistant in court, the mayor of Toulouse Jean-Luc Moudenc held on to him “reaffirm [son] support and [sa] trust “.
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