FRANCE

Court action against former President Chirac to proceed

A Paris judge has ordered former French President Jacques Chirac to stand trial over the alleged misappropriation of public funds when he served as the French capital's mayor.

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A French court on Friday decided to pursue charges of misappropriation of public funds against former President Jacques Chirac for his time when he was mayor of Paris in the 1980s and 1990s.

The court said it will continue investigating whether Chirac may have been aware that some 21 people were paid by the city for fictional jobs, while actually working for Chirac’s political party, the RPR (Rally for the Republic).

Chirac’s office responded immediately, saying that he was “calm and ready to show” that there were no such fictitious jobs.

The Paris public prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin, had previously said there was no case against Chirac, and could yet appeal the decision. If so, a court would make a further ruling within a year about whether to continue the investigation.

Also charged are two of his former mayoral chiefs of staff, Michel Roussin and Rémy Chardon, and seven other people.

The Editor-in-Chief of weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, Laurent Valdiguié, told France 24 that cases of fictitious jobs “should be simple enough to prove” and that this case “will be difficult for Jacques Chirac.”

Chirac could now become the first former French president to face trial.

He enjoyed immunity while he was France’s president between May 1995 and May 2007. He was originally charged on November 21, 2007 for “misappropriation of public funds”. Chirac was Paris’ mayor from 1977 to 1995.

Speaking on FRANCE 24, Chirac’s former advisor, Jean-François Probst, said that, “he will not now try to be treated any differently because of his previous career and high office.”

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Before the court made its announcement on Friday, Chirac’s office had already leaked the news. FRANCE 24's politics specialist Marc Perelman explains that they did so to try to soften the impact of the news and control it, but that “it still sounded like a thunder strike.”

Chirac’s political opponents quickly responded. Former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royale said that the investigation is bad for France’s image abroad. “Today Jacques Chirac certainly has regrets over a lot of things. That is why the courts are after him,” Royal said. “But at the same time, he has done a lot for this country. He deserves to be left alone.”

Investigators allege that when the fictional jobs were being handed out, and salaries therefore paid, when Chirac was in his second term as mayor. Investigators also put forth that the misappropriation continued for the first three years of the administration of his successor, Jean Tiberi.

Despite his legal problems, Chirac is a relatively well-liked figure in France. A poll this year by the magazine Paris-Match found him to be the country’s most popular politician, with a 74 percent approval rating.

Chirac's name connected to a number of other corruption allegations

Although this is the only first time Chirac has been formally charged, his name has been connected to a number of other corruption allegations. Chirac has only testified in one such a case.

In one such previous case in 2005, former aide Roussin received a four-year suspended prison sentence for being involved in bribes to political parties by companies looking for public contracts. 42 other people were convicted on that occasion.

In another, in 2006, one of Chirac’s close friends, Georges Pérol, and 36 other people were given suspended prison sentences for systematic corruption at Parisian public housing complexes. A witness claimed that Chirac was connected with these cash payments.

Furthermore, there was a 2003-4 legal investigation into how over two million euros of public money came to be allegedly spent by Chirac and his wife on personal expenses between 1987 and 1995. This case was ultimately dropped because of a statute of limitations.

In 2006, the former Paris RPR boss and nine other people were convicted of committing electoral fraud in the city during Chirac’s tenure in office. His successor, Jean Tiberi, was also found by a court earlier this year to have committed electoral fraud.

Chirac has testified in one corruption case. This was in 2007, and once again was related to fictitious jobs, but within the RPR itself rather than the city of Paris. Chirac undertook a special legal status to give evidence, which is somewhere between a neutral witness and a charged defendant.

 

 

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