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In fresh blow to Hollande, close advisor steps down

PARIS--A close advisor to Francois Hollande resigned on Friday after allegations about an alleged conflict of interest and his extravagant lifestyle, in a fresh blow to the beleaguered French president.

In a statement to AFP, senior political advisor Aquilino Morelle said he was stepping down but denied any wrongdoing.

“In the last 48 hours I have had to deal with insinuations and allegations calling my honor into question,” he said.

“I want to reiterate that I committed no fault. I was never in a situation of conflict of interest,” Morelle said.

“Nonetheless, I have decided to put an end to my duties as an advisor to the presidency of the republic ... to be entirely free to respond to these attacks.”

Morelle had been under pressure after allegations from investigative website Mediapart that he breached ethical guidelines for public servants by doing work for pharmaceutical companies in 2007, while he was a senior official in the ministry for social affairs.

Concerns had also been raised about Morelle's alleged extravagance at the presidential Elysee Palace, at a time when Hollande's government is asking French voters to accept spending cuts to rein in the country's deficit.

Mediapart reported that Morelle, the head of Hollande's communications operation, maintains a collection of 30 pairs of hand-made shoes at the Elysee that are professionally polished every two months.

Fine Wines

The advisor's taste for the best things in life also reportedly led to him regularly raiding the palace's celebrated wine cellar for fine vintages to accompany working lunches.

Morelle has not contested the accuracy of the shoes revelation and has also confirmed Mediapart's claim that the two chauffeurs at his disposal were sometimes tasked with picking up his son from school, citing his “extremely busy schedule.”

He had, however, denied the conflict of interest charges.

“At no point was I in a situation of a conflict of interest,” Morelle wrote on his Facebook page in response to Mediapart's report. “As a civil servant, there are a certain number of outside activities which are permitted by the law, including education and advice.”

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