49 on trial for Chirac-era Paris housing scandal

23rd January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 23, 2006 (AFP) - A total of 49 businessmen and public housing executives appeared in court in Paris Monday at the start of a mass corruption trial that will examine the payments of bribes and backhanders during President Jacques Chirac's tenure at Paris city hall.

PARIS, Jan 23, 2006 (AFP) - A total of 49 businessmen and public housing executives appeared in court in Paris Monday at the start of a mass corruption trial that will examine the payments of bribes and backhanders during President Jacques Chirac's tenure at Paris city hall.

Most of the funds are alleged to have gone into the coffers of Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR), which like other French political parties in the 1980s and early 1990s had widespread resort to illegal means to raise cash.

However no politicians were among the defendants in court Monday, as the judge in charge decided that after 12 years of investigations there was insufficient evidence to link individual RPR members to the bribes.

In March 2001 Chirac — who was mayor of Paris from 1977 till his election to the presidency in 1995 — was asked to appear before a judge to answer questions about the payments, but he declined citing presidential immunity.

The president was implicated by what became known as the "videotape from the grave" — a recording made by consultant Jean-Claude Méry in which he said he was present when a large sum in cash was handed over to an RPR official in Chirac's presence.

The videotape was made public in 2001, two years after Méry's death.

Accused of fraud and influence-trafficking, the 49 defendants are alleged to have connived in a system in which construction companies paid under-the-table sweeteners to win contracts from the city's public housing department.

The RPR — now renamed the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) — has been the object of several investigations for corruption during Chirac's 18 years in power. In January 2004 Chirac's close ally, former prime minister Alain Juppé, was convicted for arranging the payment of party staffers with municipal funds.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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