A French Socialist MP revealed that Jacques Chirac, already the most expensive president the French have had, was costing the taxpayer more than three times the official figure.
According to Renй Dosiиre, who has spent five years badgering every ministry and government department about how much money the Elysйe receives, the palace's annual budget - which MPs set this week at Ђ32.7m for 2006 - represents only a third of what it actually gets. Mr Dosiиre revealed that the Elysйe employs about 1,000 staff, "the equivalent of the municipal workforce of a town of 50,000 people". He said the palace's "extraordinary opaqueness" meant he could not rule out further serious "Republican anomalies".
For 2003, the last year for which full figures are available, parliament voted the Elysйe an annual budget of Ђ30.5m. But from replies to more than 35,000 questions, Mr Dosiиre has worked out that nine ministries contributed an additional Ђ52.1m in manpower, equipment and cash, bringing the palace's actual annual budget to Ђ82m.
Mr Chirac, who is immune from prosecution but was wanted for questioning in corruption scandals dating back to his time as mayor of Paris, has also presided over a staggering increase in the Elysйe's official annual income, which has soared from Ђ4.5m in 1995, the year he was first elected, to Ђ31.9m 10 years later. Palace officials say it reflects "the integration into the Elysйe budget of a number of items previously funded by various ministries".
But, said Mr Dosiиre, the defence, foreign affairs and culture ministries still account for over half the remaining unofficial funding. Defence provides the lion's share, in the form of two Airbus A319 jets, six Falcon 900s, and 740 soldiers (including 248 Republican Guards).
The foreign ministry pays for all the president's official visits abroad and all international conferences in Paris, while the culture ministry pays for the fabric of the palace. The interior ministry, meanwhile, provides 40 senior police officers for the president's security.
In all, Mr Dosiиre said he had identified 783 Elysйe staff who are still paid by their original employer, including 15 post office workers and, until 2002, 33 Paris municipal employees, such as gardeners and chauffeurs. But Mr Chirac also pays some 150 to 200 employees out of his "official" budget, meaning he has at his disposal a staff of 1,000, Mr Dosiиre said. He has calculated that some 280 hours of presidential flying time, at an average cost to the taxpayer of Ђ5,750 per hour, are unaccounted for by his official requirements.
But perhaps the biggest mystery is the president's salary, which is fixed not by law but by himself and amounts - officially but hardly credibly - to just Ђ6,594 a month, less than a third of that of the prime minister (Ђ20,206) and less than half that of a minister (Ђ13.471), The Guardian reports.