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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 9 July, 2020

Former French president Jacques Chirac to stand trial on corruption charges

The long-awaited trial will start on Monday and could have implications for the current president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Jacques Chirac (file photo)
Jacques Chirac (file photo)
Image: AP Photo/Remy Gabalda

THE FORMER FRENCH president Jacques Chirac will stand trial on Monday on charges of corruption.

After years of claiming presidential immunity to avoid legal proceedings, the former president will become France’s first former head of state to go on trial since its Nazi-era leader was exiled

If the trial goes ahead as planned, Chirac, 78, faces a month in court on charges that he masterminded a scheme to have Paris City Hall pay for work that benefited his political party when he was mayor — before he became president in 1995.

A prison term is seen as highly unlikely, but in principle if convicted, Chirac could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined euro150,000 ($210,000).

France’s restive political circles are gearing up for next year’s presidential race, but the fallout from this trial is unlikely to hit anyone other than Chirac and the nine other defendants including a grandson of Gen. Charles de Gaulle and a former left-wing labor union leader.

Still, the trial looms as an embarrassing coda to Chirac’s 12-year presidential term, potentially denting his legacy, recent philanthropic work and image as one of France’s most popular personalities since he left office.

The trial will also shine a spotlight on the underside of high-level politics that could be uncomfortable background noise for Chirac’s successor and one-time protege, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to rebuild his depleted poll numbers before a possible re-election bid.

The latest polls do not put Sarkozy in a good position ahead of that election in May of next year, as today’s Observer reports.

The trial of Chirac fuses two separate but similar cases.

In the first case, investigating magistrate Xaviere Simeoni in Paris has focused on claims that Chirac had City Hall pay for 21 contract hires who never worked for the city but instead worked for his party, then called RPR. He faces charges of embezzlement and breach of trust.

Simeoni, in her order for Chirac to stand trial, wrote that he was the “conceiver, author and beneficiary” of that system.

The other case, led by investigating judge Jacques Gazeaux in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, centers on seven jobs at Chirac’s former party said to be improperly paid for by City Hall. Chirac is accused of illegal conflict of interest in that case.

That case netted a conviction and temporary ban from political office in 2004 for Chirac’s longtime political ally Alain Juppe, a former prime minister who recently returned in a big way to political life — and is now foreign minister.

Chirac will answer for only a fraction of the scandals that have hounded him over the years: the others were either thrown out for a lack of evidence or had exceeded the statute of limitations.

For years, investigating magistrates had sought to prosecute Chirac, who hid behind his presidential immunity during his term from 1995 to 2007.

Chirac has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, insisting that France had no judicial rules laying out a framework for party financing at the time, and that the expenses were approved by the city council.

He will be the first former French head of state to stand trial since Marshal Philippe Petain, the leader of France’s Nazi collaborationist regime, was convicted of treason and shipped into exile after World War II.

The debonair Chirac has been one of France’s most towering political figures for at least 35 years: president for 12 years, prime minister twice, four-time presidential candidate, mayor of its biggest city for 18 years, Cabinet minister, National Assembly lawmaker and regional councilor.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the long-awaited trial holds little fear for the country’s ‘ultimate bon vivant’.

- additional reporting by AP

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Hugh O'Connell

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