Investigators and politicians pile pressure on French energy minister over investment scheme affair

The announcements follow an Investigate Europe and Disclose investigation revealing how Pannier-Runacher helped launch a million-euro investment company to benefit her children.

The company was created in 2016 by her father, a former Perenco oil executive, with €1.2 million of shares invested in three hedge funds – two based in the tax havens of Guernsey and Ireland. Named after the politician’s children, Arjunem was designed by Jean-Michel Runacher as an early-inheritance scheme for his grandchildren.

The three children of Pannier-Runacher, a close ally of President Emmanuel Macron, are shareholders, along with a fourth grandchild of her father. As their legal representative, the minister is a signatory for her three minor children in Arjunem’s incorporation documents.

Pannier-Runacher, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not obliged to declare her involvement under French law. However, transparency campaigners said her failure to do so could constitute a “conflict of interest” regarding Perenco.

Jean-Michel Runacher spent decades at Perenco, which calls itself “Europe’s leading independent oil and gas company”, and only stepped back from the business in 2020. The investigation found that Perenco itself had previously held shares in the same three hedge funds used by Runacher to launch Arjunem. There is no evidence that the €1.2m invested in Arjunem is directly linked in any way to Perenco.

Political backlash

But only hours after the story was released, the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life (HATVP), a watchdog scrutinising ministerial interests and possible conflict of interest risks, announced it had opened an investigation into the minister’s involvement.  

In an address in the French parliament on Tuesday, Pannier-Runacher said the story was “false and slanderous”, but confirmed the essential facts of the investigation. She said the donation of shares had been made “through a French company subject to French taxation” and that she had not benefited from these funds, nor would she be able to do so in the future. She did not comment on the tax haven links or the nature of the investments.

“I would also like to specify that my children have not received any funds from this company since its creation,” she said, adding that in her ministerial roles she had no “knowledge of the activities” of Perenco.

“My father, my mother and my children have not chosen a public activity,” she added. “I have, and I carry it out with complete transparency, both in terms of my assets and my interests, while respecting the law. When it comes to my family, and this is not the first time, you will understand that it is my duty to protect them.”

Her arguments did not convince the opposition. Clémence Guetté, a member of La France Insoumise, questioned the suitability of “a minister whose indirect financial interests are visibly linked to oil companies” to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. Danielle Simonnet, a fellow party member, wrote on Twitter: “Minister for the Energy Transition or for oil interests, you have to choose!”

Opposition MP Danièle Obono was even more scathing in her assessment on Twitter: “The minister in charge of a bill on renewable energies has indirect interests in an oil company via financial arrangements in tax havens. Why isn’t it looping on the news channels? Why is she still a minister?”

Greenpeace calls for resignation

Pannier-Runacher is set to attend COP27 in Egypt this week but following the revelations, Greenpeace France said she was “not legitimate to represent France” at the conference. 

“This revelation demonstrates that the government is off the mark: either it does not realize the conflict of interest, or it downplays it. In both cases, the situation is serious and requires an immediate reaction,” director general Jean-François Julliard said.

“Not only is the minister not up to the challenges of the energy transition, but it is now becoming impossible to consider her as a credible interlocutor on the stated objective of phasing out fossil fuels. Under these conditions, Agnès Pannier-Runacher must resign.”