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Book Questions French Foreign Minister's Past Activities in Africa

A book published in France Wednesday accuses French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of a conflict of interest during the time he worked as a health consultant in Africa, before becoming France's top envoy.

Entitled The World According to K, the book has stirred debate in France even before its release. Its author, French journalist Pierre Pean, accuses Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of a conflict of interest when he worked as a private health consultant, before President Nicolas Sarkozy tapped him to become France's top envoy.

Pean claims Kouchner worked as a consultant for two private firms, writing reports on reforming the health insurance systems in Gabon and Congo. The countries were billed for several million dollars.

At the same time, Kouchner was also working as a consultant for a public company aimed to improve health services for developing countries. Pean claims that some of the payments for Kouchner's private activities were only received after he became foreign minister.

Kouchner, the founder of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders and one of France's most popular politicians, has rejected the allegations. In remarks to the weekly Nouvelle Observateur, he called the book "grotesque and sickening."

A number of politicians have also spoken up on his behalf, including Jean-Francois Cope, the head of the ruling UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) party at the National Assembly.

Cope told French radio he has not read the book and that it is up to Kouchner to explain his activities. He says that in today's political climate, it is easy to throw public officials to the piranhas, based on mere allegations.

But a number of observers and politicians, particularly from the opposition Socialist Party, are demanding that Kouchner provide a thorough explanation of his activities in Africa.