The former Keeper of the Seals and two members of his family are being prosecuted for "embezzlement of public funds" dating back to Mr. Mercier's past mandates in the Rhône, where he was senator and president of the general council.
Michel Mercier, his wife Joëlle and his daughter Delphine were present at this first hearing. The trial is to be held until November 10.
The three defendants dispute the facts which span from 2005 to 2014, at a time when family parliamentary jobs were not yet prohibited. They have been since the summer of 2017 and the resounding Fillon affair.
Opened in August 2017 after an article in Le Canard enchaîné, the investigation by the National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) had led Mr. Mercier, 75, to give up the seat which was then promised to him on the Constitutional Council. "I consider (...) that I will not be able to sit with the necessary serenity," said this close friend of François Bayrou.
The investigations, which lasted more than three years, first focused on Delphine Mercier's job as a parliamentary assistant with her father, between August 2012 and April 2014, while she was living in London. According to the investigators, it was not possible to find any trace of his work, which would have focused in particular on press reviews.
The investigation then turned to the activities of the centrist senator's wife. Here again, the investigations would not have found any evidence of secretarial or representation work carried out by Joëlle Mercier between 2005 and 2009, as her husband's parliamentary assistant.
New documents should however be produced by the defense during the trial before the criminal court.
Mr. Mercier, who in theory risks up to ten years in prison, would also have instructed his wife to organize various cultural events intended to promote his re-election to the Senate but financed by the General Council of the Rhône, which he chaired from 1990 to 2013. As such, he will also appear for "illegal taking of interests".