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France’s protocol chief’s sacking raises questions on vetting process

France’s protocol chief’s sacking raises questions on vetting process

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PARIS — France’s top protocol chief was fired this week within hours of taking office over past wrongdoing, drawing ire from the diplomatic corps amid questions over the vetting process at the French foreign affairs ministry. 

Philippe Casenave was briefly state protocol director, a discreet but key position in the French diplomatic machinery with responsibilities that include overseeing official visits from foreign leaders hosted by the French presidency and the prime minister’s office. 

Casenave took office Tuesday morning but was dismissed in the afternoon over the alleged misuse of state property while he was France’s general consul in Marrakesh, Morocco, from 2017 to 2021, three French diplomats told POLITICO. The diplomats were granted anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

According to internal documents obtained by POLITICO, an investigation by France’s foreign affairs ministry in 2021 revealed that Casenave lent his official residence, a spacious house with a large garden and a swimming pool, to a decorator who was described as “a friend.”

“[The friend] used the residence as his own home, received friends on the weekends and used the silverware and the dinner service with the insignia of the [French] Republic,” the report said. The internal investigation also stated that the consul’s friend also received “young people, presumably prostitutes” on a regular basis, in the absence of the consul.

“All of this revealed a clear ethical lapse, an abuse that very probably tarnished the reputation of the general consul in Marrakesh,” it adds. 

The decision to appoint Casenave to the prestigious post of state protocol director in April has raised questions about the efficacy of the vetting process at France’s foreign affairs ministry. 

One of the three diplomats who spoke to POLITICO shared concerns that “the services likely to have [the right information] in their drawers” were not consulted for such an important nomination. 

“It’s going to confirm the president’s idea that his [diplomatic] service is really useless,” he added, with reference to past difficult relations between President Emmanuel Macron and French diplomats.

“It’s stupefying that there was no screening before the nomination,” said another senior French diplomat. “The report is scathing, where are the sanctions?” he added.

The French ministry of foreign affairs was contacted about vetting processes and possible sanctions against Casenave, but didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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