"Many untruths have been told in the press," said Cyril Karunagaran, president of USEPPM (the Union of Physical Education and Military Service Preparation Societies). This association and that of Reconstructing the common were convened Wednesday by the Senate commission of inquiry, launched to try to shed light on the use of the Marianne Fund.
The latter was created on April 20, 2021 by Marlène Schiappa, then Minister Delegate for Citizenship, with the aim of fighting separatism after the assassination of Professor Samuel Paty. Initially endowed with 2.5 million euros, it aimed to finance associations promoting the values of the Republic to bring, especially on social networks, the contradiction to radical Islam.
But, at the end of March and beginning of April, several media implicated these two associations among the 17 winners, in particular on the weakness of the productions in view of the public sums received (respectively 355,000 euros and 330,000). It was also revealed that Rebuilding the Common had denigrated several left-wing figures. The National Financial Prosecutor's Office (PNF) has opened a judicial investigation into the use of the fund.
The USEPPM defends a "qualitative" balance sheet
According to Cyril Karunagaran of the USEPPM, "the quality of our production has been rather well received by the CIPDR", the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization, the structure of the Ministry of the Interior that administratively manages this fund. While senators ask him how he could think he could pass, before the Marianne Fund, from a structure with a small budget (50,000 euros annually) and "five members", to a project at 355,000 euros, he repeatedly pleads his "inexperience in the field of public subsidies".
He then acknowledges "a first mistake": having "applied for this grant on this sensitive subject". Then explains how, starting from a "blank sheet", he had to "reduce the sail" on the ambitions of the project. But that despite everything, "the qualitative balance sheet has been achieved". Cyril Karunagaran confirms in passing that it was Marlène Schiappa's office that contacted him to propose to submit a grant application file to the CIPDR in spring 2021.
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Mohamed Sifaoui, the media director of operations of the USEPPM, also summoned Wednesday, was "not available", for "health reasons", according to the Senate committee. His hearing will be rescheduled at a later date. In April he denied any "embezzlement" and said he had "nothing to reproach himself".
"I don't regret anything"
Ahlam Menouni, president of Rebuilding the Common also denounced a "media disinformation campaign". Senators took the time to watch excerpts from videos produced by his association. In a program - which Ahlam Menouni herself describes as "infotainment" - we can hear for example a person make a pun denigrating the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo.
"It is difficult to see the calm discourse and the republican discourse," said the PS president of the Finance Committee, Claude Raynal. The CIPDR "has never forbidden us to make political content," says Ahlam Menouni. However, on May 16, Christian Gravel, secretary general of the CIPDR, also affirmed under oath before this commission that this association had produced "many political contents", especially during the presidential election campaign, despite several reframings.
"Did we talk about politics as a matter for the city? Yes, and we assume it perfectly. (...) Did we post partisanship? Absolutely not," says Ahlam Menouni. "We were selected on a project, which had an editorial line that was intended to react to current events and make generalist political entertainment," she explains. "I don't regret anything," she said.