Feb. 26, 2001 (Source: Peter Kohman/The Economist) DATELINE: BRUSSELS

The E.U.'s troubled Department of Popular Culture was dealt yet another blow today when Interpol revealed that Assistant Minister Henri Pinard, barely three months into his tenure, was being investigated for possible absinthe usage. When contacted, his office at first denied any knowledge of the investigation, but later issued this brief statement from M. Pinard: "I will not step down. What I do on weekends is my own business. Once again, I'm being pilloried by a bunch of hypocrites."

M. Pinard is certainly no stranger to controversy. Referring to himself in interviews as "a professional dilettante", his prior role as patron-of-the arts had put him on a first-name basis with many of Europe's cultural leading lights, and made his recent appointment to the DPC an obvious choice as well as a problematic one for many of Brussels's more conservative members. The scion of the Royal Luxembourg banking family that owns and manages Banque Pinard, Cochon & Fils, and long a high-profile member of Europe's Jet Set, he has had numerous absinthe-related brushes with the French and Swiss police. Since 1983, he has been barred from entry into Spain - where absinthe is still legal - for refusing to submit to routine blood tests.

Often accompanied at cultural events by the reigning ingenue of the day or female pop star of the moment, Pinard is best known via the tabloids for his long-running and tempestuous liaison with Trynka Zhenk of the rock group Kilopop!. Mlle. Zhenk, while first refusing to comment on Pinard's alleged activities, admitted to this reporter of a brief flirtation with the drink in the mid-'80's: "In the art and entertainment field, it's accepted I guess...although we all know the risks. I stopped because it was jeopardizing my career. But it's also very seductive...you meet someone at a gig who invites you to their place for a little taste...the next thing you know you're shoplifting sugar cubes, writing Symbolist poetry and painting 'light' rather than that bowl of fruit in front of you. I still do it from time to time...just to prove to myself that I'm no longer addicted." When pressed again for a comment regarding M. Pinard, she replied that "I've known him since 1967, and together we've tried just about everything that's out there. I hope Henri can get it together...he's not too interesting or smart, but he's always been generous with what little he has."