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Understand everything about the Kohler affair, after the indictment for “illegal taking of interests” of the secretary general of the Elysée


New judicial thunderclap for the executive. A few hours after the announcement of the referral to trial of the Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti before the Court of Justice of the Republic for “illegal taking of interests”, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) announced on Monday 3 October that the secretary general of the Elysée, Alexis Kohler, had been indicted for “illegal taking of interests”, on September 23.

Mr Kohler “has, moreover, been placed under the status of witness assisted by the leader of influence peddling”. “No judicial control measure has been taken against him”said the PNF in a press release.

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The 49-year-old senior official is accused of not having mentioned his family ties with the main shareholder of the Italian-Swiss maritime freight operator Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), when he had been taken to take a position in this case on behalf of the State. Back to the heart of the matter.

What is the bottom line?

The case arose after the publication, in 2018, of several articles by Mediapart revealing Mr Kohler’s family ties to the Aponte family, the largest shareholder in ocean freight operator MSC.

Alexis Kohler, while he was deputy director of the Agence des participations de l’Etat (APE), approved between 2010 and 2012 contracts between Terminal Normandie MSC (TNMSC), a subsidiary of the MSC cruise group, founded and run by his mother’s cousins, and the Grand Port maritime du Havre (GPMH), when he sat on the latter’s supervisory board.

The information site broadcast the content of two minutes of the GPMH Supervisory Board in 2010 and 2011. We learn that Alexis Kohler was led to take a position in this case on behalf of the State, between 2010 and 2012, as a representative of the APE, an administration placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, embodying the public authorities as a shareholder or investor. Mr Kohler was then again driven to take a stand on related issues, during his stint at the economy ministry between 2012 and 2016.

MSC: a major investor in France

The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is an Italian company under Swiss law, founded in the Neapolitan region in 1970 by Rafaela and Gianluigi Aponte. A family structure which has become in less than fifty years the number two in the maritime transport of goods. Its fleet of 490 container ships delivers cargo to 500 ports around the world. The group also operates cruises across the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Still managed today by the Aponte couple, MSC employs 70,000 people and generates 27 billion euros in turnover.

One of the group’s subsidiaries, Terminal Investment Limited, operates 34 port terminals in 22 countries, including France, where it controls two terminals at the port of Le Havre. Above all, the group is historically a major customer for the shipyards of Saint-Nazaire, for which the shipowner recently signed an order for three liners worth 3.4 billion euros.

In 2014, the senior official requested permission to leave the administration to work at MSC Cruises. Initially refused, his request was accepted two years later. He then became the company’s financial director in 2016. He then joined Emmanuel Macron’s campaign and became secretary general of the Elysée in May 2017, once the latter was elected President of the Republic.

Alexis Kohler claimed in May 2018 to Mediapart having systematically kept out of the negotiations when files concerning MSC were treated in order to avoid any conflict of interest. However, the minutes mention that he took part in the deliberations concerning the awarding of future contracts between the Grand Port maritime du Havre and a French subsidiary of the MSC group, and that he voted ” at least one time “according Mediapart, a provision in favor of MSC involving public money”.

On what counts is Mr. Kohler charged?

A first complaint was filed in May 2018 by Anticor with the PNF for “illegal taking of interests”, “influence peddling” and “passive corruption”. In fact, and according to Mediapartthe family tie has “was concealed by Mr. Alexis Kohler until revealed” by the news site. The association then filed a second complaint on August 8, 2018 for “illegal taking of interests”.

Following the latter, the PNF decided to open a first preliminary investigation at the end of 2018. But the latter was dismissed in August 2019, the PNF considering that the analysis of the elements collected ” not [permettait] not to characterize the offenses initially suspected”. However, the circumstances of this classification without follow-up presented a disturbing chronology, denounced by Anticor.

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The anti-corruption association obtained the relaunch of the investigations in June 2020 thanks to the filing of a complaint with a civil action filed at the end of 2019, which allowed the appointment of an investigating judge and the opening of a a judicial investigation for “illegal taking of interests”, “trading in influence” and “failure to declare to the High Authority for the transparency of public life”. It is this complaint that led to the indictment of the secretary general of the Elysée.

In a press release released Monday, October 3, Mr. Kohler’s lawyer, Mr.e Eric Dezeuze, indicated that the person concerned “Strongly denies having committed any offence”. “Without taking into consideration at this stage the many objective exculpatory elements, Alexis Kohler was placed under the status of indicted for illegal taking of interests for facts that may date back more than ten years”explained M.e Dezeuze, asserting that “the rest of the procedure, to which he now has access”was going to “allow him to demonstrate his innocence”. According to the Elysée, Mr. Kohler remains at his post for the time being.


  • Illegal taking of interest

Defined in article 432-12 of the penal code, the offense of illegal taking of interests is “the fact, by a person holding public authority or charged with a public service mission (…)to take, receive or retain, directly or indirectly, any interest whatsoever in a company or in an operation for which it is, at the time of the act, in whole or in part, responsible for ensuring the supervision, administration, liquidation or payment”.

Influence peddling is defined, in article 433-2, as “the fact, by anyone, of soliciting or accepting (…) offers, promises, donations, presents or benefits of any kind, for himself or for others, to abuse or have abused his real or supposed influence in order to obtain from an authority or a public administration distinctions, jobs, markets or any other favorable decision”. These two offenses are punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 euros.