Former French president Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended jail sentence on Thursday after he was convicted of embezzling public money to finance his political party. Chirac has said he will not appeal.
Sentenced for creating fake civil service jobs while he was mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, Chirac is the first former French President to be convicted of a criminal offence since the Second World War.
He was found guilty of charges – which he denied – that he hired allies in non-existent civil service posts, effectively using the public purse to keep his campaign staff on the payroll.
Prosecutors said that conservative politician Chirac was the “inventor, author and beneficiary” of a conspiracy to use public funds to “support his political influence” and serve his own “interests and ambitions, or those of his party”.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Luke Brown, reporting from the court, said the verdict carried a double dose of bad news for the former president.
“Not only has he been found guilty, but the court also found that he was the sole person behind the case and that it was not his subordinates’ fault,” he said. “It was Chirac’s decision and his alone to hand out these fake jobs.”
The 79-year-old, who was president between 1995 and 2007, was not at the Paris court to hear the judge’s verdict, with doctors saying that he was suffering severe neurological problems.
Chirac’s lawyer Georges Kiejman told reporters after the verdict that despite the ruling, he hoped that the popular former leader would retain his positive reputation among the people of the country.
“I hope that this ruling doesn't change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac,” he said. “We have to take a step back and read this ruling, we have to speak of course with the main person involved (Chirac), and we will know tonight if he accepts this decision or, on the contrary, he wants - on principle – to appeal.”
In 2004, former French Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was found guilty of mishandling public funds in the same case and given a suspended sentence.