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Ex-president Chirac’s trial hits hurdle on opening day

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2011-03-07

Popular former president Jacques Chirac’s trial for misusing public funds kicked off Monday, but was promptly suspended by a co-defendant’s appeal on a technicality and could now be stalled for months.

Former President Jacques Chirac is one of France’s most popular politicians, but these days he finds himself facing a most unhappy distinction: he is the country’s first ex-head of state to be brought up on criminal charges since 1945.

Chirac’s trial for misuse of public funds kicked off Monday, but was promptly delayed by a co-defendant’s appeal over a technical legal question. The trial could now be postponed for several months depending on whether the case is moved to France highest court, the Court of Cassation. This decision will be taken on Tuesday.

The 78-year-old former president is accused of embezzling public money to fund his political party while he was mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, the year he wa

Abuse of trust, misappropriation of public funds and more: the charges Chirac faces

s elected to his first term as president. Specific allegations are that Chirac used city money to pay 28 phantom employees for his own political purposes.

Chirac has denied any wrongdoing, saying that France had no clear laws on party financing at the time.

Popularity only goes so far

Chirac was excused from attending the first day of the trial amid rumours of poor health and recent appearances in which he looked frail and ill.
 
Until the end of his second presidential term in 2007, Chirac benefitted from the immunity from prosecution that all French presidents enjoy. If he is found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison and be made to pay 150,000 euros in fines, but a suspended sentence is seen as more likely.
 
If judges agree to Monday’s appeal over a technical issue filed by one of Chirac’s nine co-defendants, it will be up to the Court of Cassation to decide whether the trial can go on.
 
Should Chirac be made to stand trial, he will be the first former French head of state to face criminal charges since Marshal Philippe Petain, the World War I hero who subsequently led France during the Nazi occupation. Petain was eventually found guilty of treason in 1945.
 
Nearly four years after he left the presidency, Chirac is a widely liked figure. A poll conducted by IFOP last summer about French politicians’ popularity had Chirac in first place. Meanwhile, centre-right politicians from Budget Minister Francois Baroin to recently appointed Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have expressed regret that Chirac be made to go no trial.
 
Still, other polls have revealed that a majority of French people want Chirac to face trial, suggesting public weariness in the wake of several corruption scandals involving prominent French politicians.

 

Date created : 2011-03-07

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