French environment minister in hot water over lavish dinners

French Environment Minister Francois de Rugy promised to "correct" any "error of judgement" on Thursday after investigative journalists uncovered his habit of hosting lavish dinners in his previous post as president of the National Assembly parliament.

The Mediapart news site reported that de Rugy and his wife hosted at least 12 luxury dinners, mostly for their close friends, consisting often of lobster and bottles of wine costing between €100 and €550 ($113 to $619) a bottle.

Mediapart said it also estimated that renovations on de Rugy's government-provided apartment on the upscale Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris cost the taxpayer 63,000 euros.

De Rugy disputed that the dinners he and his wife hosted were for friends, saying they were for political and business leaders as part of his role as leader of the legislature from June 2017 to September 2018.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that an investigation was being launched to determine if any public funds were used inappropriately.

"Francois de Rugy is aware of the legitimate emotion of our fellow citizens in this controversy and wants to leave no doubt.If any ambiguity was left after checks are made, he pledges to reimburse every single disputed euro."

De Rugy refuses to apologize, then backpedals

When the allegations were initially published on Wednesday, de Rugy offered no apology, saying "I assume full responsibility for the fact that a parliament speaker or a minister should be able to hold informal meetings over dinner with business leaders, cultural figureheads and university deans."

However, on Thursday as this reaction was increasingly being slammed as condescending to the public, de Rugy said he would "correct" any past mistakes.

The revelations could prove another setback toPresident Emmanuel Macron, whose critics like to label him a "president for the rich," primarily the country'syellow vest protesters.

De Rugy's predecessor Nicolas Hulot, a well-known ecologist, stepped down last year after accusing Macron of a lack of commitment to tackling climate change.

es/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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