A FORMER advisor to Christine Lagarde when she was French finance minister has been placed under investigation for allegedly changing the route of a new TGV fast train line to prevent it going through his mother's garden.
A judge suspects "filial love" prompted François-Gilles Egretier to seek to shift a section of the new TGV line linking Bordeax to Spain some 3km (1.8m) to the north of a small village where his mother has a "bourgeois property" with a substantial garden.
Three years ago, Réseau ferré de France, France's state-run rail network operator, decided to make the final TGV route pass through the tiny village of Uchacq-et-Parentis in the Landes region of southwestern France. The new line would have impacted 60 homes including that of Mr Egretier's mother.
But a few months later, RFF went back on its decision to include the small deviation. Some 15 disgruntled inhabitants whose homes were now in the path of the altered route filed a complaint over why it was moved, leading to a six-month investigation.
Top investigating magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke's attention soon turned to a letter from the mayor of Uchacq-et-Parentis in the local gazette stating that a "member of the village" had sent a letter to the then transport minister, asking him to take a "close look at the dossier".
Jean-Claude Lalagüe signed off: "Thank you Mr Egretier, our Parisian branch."
The judge, who has placed Mr Egretier under investigation for "illegal interest taking", suspects the finance ministry advisor then set up and attended a meeting with the rail network chief to discuss the change.
An email exchange leaked to Sud Ouest newspaper reveals a message sent from Mr Egretier to the mayor saying: "I'm going to enter into contact with my colleagues in the (transport minister's) office to pilot the progress of this project more precisely."
Mr Egretier's lawyer, Bertrand Domenach, later conceded he had acted out of "filial love" but above all to find a "route that would impact less people".
The village mayor, Mr Lalagüe said he was responsible for seeking to change the route. "I'm the one who drew (the new route) up. It's much better for our village. This investigation is unfair. François Egretier only served as my letter box."
He pointed out that Michèle Alliot-Marie, the former foreign minister, failed to change the TGV route when it passed through her native Basque country.
Robert Tauziat, spokesman for the 15 plaintiffs, said the decision to place Mr Egretier under investigation was cause for "immense satisfaction".
"It's a breath of fresh air after a three year battle...in which we were humiliated, and taken for a ride in a David vs Goliath-style fight," he said.
The investigation continues.
The new TGV route to Spain, not expected to be ready before 2020, will pass from Bordeaux to Mont-de-Marsan, Dax and Bayonne and will cut 90 minutes from the journey time. It will put Bordeaux within 1 hour and 50 minutes of Bilbao by 2020.