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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

France ministry raided as police probe Macron's chief of staff

Alexis Kohler previously worked at the economy ministry as a senior civil servant

In this file photo taken on March 07, 2016 then French Economy minister Emmanuel Macron (L) and his then Chief of staff Alexis Kohler attend a meeting with the French prime minister on proposed changes of the labour law at the Hotel Matignon in Paris. Police raided France's economy ministry June 6, 2018 as part of a conflict of interest probe into President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler, a source close to the case said. Jacques Demarthon / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 07, 2016 then French Economy minister Emmanuel Macron (L) and his then Chief of staff Alexis Kohler attend a meeting with the French prime minister on proposed changes of the labour law at the Hotel Matignon in Paris. Police raided France's economy ministry June 6, 2018 as part of a conflict of interest probe into President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler, a source close to the case said. Jacques Demarthon / AFP

Police raided France's economy ministry Wednesday as part of a conflict of interest probe into President Emmanuel Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler, a source close to the case said.

The search operations in several offices were carried out by officers from the BRDE economic crimes unit, the source said.

Mr Kohler previously worked in the ministry as a senior civil servant, including as cabinet director to Macron during his time as economy minister between 2014 and 2016.

Anti-corruption prosecutors on Monday said they had opened an investigation into 45-year-old Mr Kohler over his links to the Swiss-Italian shipping giant MSC.

The probe is focusing on whether Kohler had a conflict of interest during his time at the economy ministry due to his relationship with MSC, the biggest client of major French shipyard STX France.

Mr Kohler worked closely with the company in several senior ministry roles despite his family link to its client MSC, which was founded by billionaire cousins of his mother.

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Mr Kohler left the ministry in 2016 to join MSC as finance director, while continuing to work as an advisor on Macron's presidential campaign in his spare time.

Macron's office has dismissed the allegations of wrongdoing, first revealed by investigative website Mediapart, as "completely unfounded".

The case is an unwelcome development for Macron, who is known to be very close to his chief of staff.

Leftist opponents have accused Macron, a former investment banker, of being too close to company owners, while the allegations against Mr Kohler also add to a list of legal investigations targeting his allies.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud, who also worked with Macron while he was economy minister, is being investigated over an evening she organised in Las Vegas to promote French technology companies in 2016.

The contract to organise the event was not put out to tender, leading to accusations of favouritism which she denies.

Macron's close ally Richard Ferrand also had to step down from his ministerial post last June due to a probe over a property deal.