Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Kouchner hits out at book claims

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (file image)
Bernard Kouchner says he has acted with total transparency

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has rejected allegations that he had unethical links with governments in Africa.

Mr Kouchner took to the floor of parliament to denounce the accusations, in a new book on his policy record.

He had acted with total legality, he told lawmakers, and had never used his public role for private gain.

The allegations concern his activities as a private consultant on health policy, before he took office.

Journalist Pierre Pean, in a book entitled The World According to K, claims two consultancies run by associates of Mr Kouchner were paid nearly $6m (4.1m; 4.7m euros) by the governments of Gabon and Congo for reports that were written by him.

Some of this money was paid by the two African governments after Mr Kouchner became foreign minister in May 2007, Mr Pean alleges.

'Total transparency'

But in a magazine interview published on Wednesday, Mr Kouchner denied any conflict of interest had occurred.

As a consultant for a French firm he had earned an average monthly salary of $7,700 helping the governments of the two countries set up health insurance systems, he said.

"I never signed a contract with an African state," he told news weekly Nouvel Observateur.

Later he told parliament that he had acted with total transparency.

"At no moment in Gabon or elsewhere did I make use of my ministerial functions" for private gain, he said.

He blamed the allegations on "circles" who hated him, pointing to differences with Mr Pean over who should be blamed for the Rwandan genocide.

Bernard Kouchner made his name when he founded medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres more than 30 years ago and he regularly tops polls as France's most popular politician, reports the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

After a long period as a Socialist, he shocked many on the left when he joined the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

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